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Randy Mankin, Editor
The Eldorado Success
The Department of Justice announced Monday, March 23rd, that it has taken its first action in federal court to combat fraud related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The enforcement action filed in Austin against the operators of a alleges that the operators of the website “coronavirusmedicalkit.com” are engaging in a wire fraud scheme seeking to profit from the confusion and widespread fear surrounding COVID-19. Information published on the website claimed to offer consumers access to World Health Organization (WHO) vaccine kits in exchange for a shipping charge of $4.95. In fact, there are currently no legitimate COVID-19 vaccines and the WHO is not distributing any such vaccine.

The enforcement action taken today is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas A. Parnham, Jr. and Michael C. Galdo of the Western District of Texas, and Senior Litigation Counsel Ross S. Goldstein of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch. The FBI’s San Antonio Field Office is conducting the investigation.

In response to the department’s request, U.S. 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.

“Attorney General Barr has directed the department to prioritize fraud schemes arising out of the coronavirus emergency,” said U.S. Attorney John F. Bash of the Western District of Texas. “We therefore moved very quickly to shut down this scam. We hope in the future that responsible web domain registrars will quickly and effectively shut down websites designed to facilitate these scams. My office will continue to be aggressive in targeting these sorts of despicable frauds for the duration of this emergency.”

The Department of Justice recommends that Americans to take the following precautionary measures to protect themselves from known and emerging scams related to COVID-19:

• Independently verify the identity of any company, charity, or individual that contacts you regarding COVID-19.

• Check the websites and email addresses offering information, products, or services related to COVID-19. Be aware that scammers often employ addresses that differ only slightly from those belonging to the entities they are impersonating. For example, they might use “cdc.com” or “cdc.org” instead of “cdc.gov.”

• Be wary of unsolicited emails offering information, supplies, or treatment for COVID-19 or requesting your personal information for medical purposes. Legitimate health authorities will not contact the general public this way.

• Do not click on links or open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources. Doing so could download a virus onto your computer or device.

• Make sure the anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer is operating and up to date.

• Ignore offers for a COVID-19 vaccine, cure, or treatment. Remember, if a vaccine becomes available, you won’t hear about it for the first time through an email, online ad, or unsolicited sales pitch.

• Check online reviews of any company offering COVID-19 products or supplies. Avoid companies whose customers have complained about not receiving items.

• Research any charities or crowdfunding sites soliciting donations in connection with COVID-19 before giving any donation. Remember, an organization may not be legitimate even if it uses words like “CDC” or “government” in its name or has reputable looking seals or logos on its materials. For online resources on donating wisely, visit the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.

• Be wary of any business, charity, or individual requesting payments or donations in cash, by wire transfer, gift card, or through the mail. Don’t send money through any of these channels.

• Be cautious of “investment opportunities” tied to COVID-19, especially those based on claims that a small company’s products or services can help stop the virus.

If you decide to invest, carefully research the investment beforehand. For information on how to avoid investment fraud, visit the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) website.

For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19, consumers may visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and WHO websites.

In addition, the public is urged to report suspected fraud schemes related to COVID-19 by calling the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) hotline (1-866-720-5721) or by e-mailing the NCDF at disaster@leo.gov.