The US Department of Justice on Saturday filed its first court action against a website operator accused of committing fraud to profit from the global COVID-19 pandemic.

A temporary restraining order was filed in a federal court in Austin against the operator of coronavirusmedicalkit.com, who allegedly offered fake coronavirus vaccines for sale in a shameless attempt to cash in on a health crisis that has killed 15,430 people. 

The website claimed to offer consumers access to COVID-19 vaccine kits approved by the World Health Organization in exchange for a shipping fee of $4.95. To gain access to the fake vaccine, users were required to enter their credit card information on the website. 

The scam emerged as scientists around the world race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.

An investigation of the website and its operators is now underway. Meanwhile, the federal court used a statute that permits federal courts to issue injunctions to prevent harm to potential victims of fraudulent schemes to shut the site down.

In response to a request from the Department of Justice, US District Judge Robert Pitman issued a temporary restraining order requiring that the registrar of the fraudulent website immediately take action to block public access to it.

The enforcement action follows US Attorney General William Barr’s recent instructions for the department to prioritize the detection, investigation, and prosecution of illegal conduct related to the coronavirus health crisis.  

“The Department of Justice will not tolerate criminal exploitation of this national emergency for personal gain,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.  

“We will use every resource at the government’s disposal to act quickly to shut down these most despicable of scammers, whether they are defrauding consumers, committing identity theft, or delivering malware.”

Christopher Combs, special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Antonio Field Office, said scammers posed a dual threat to Americans who are “understandably desperate to find solutions to keep their families safe and healthy.”

“Fraudsters who seek to profit from their fear and uncertainty, by selling bogus vaccines or cures, not only steal limited resources from our communities, they pose an even greater danger by spreading misinformation and creating confusion,” said Combs.

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