(April 24, 2020) - The U.S. Justice Department has won a preliminary injunction against the operator of a website accused of running a “predatory wire fraud scheme” to induce people into buying nonexistent coronavirus vaccines.
United States v. Doe, No. 20-cv-306, preliminary injunction issued, 2020 WL 1880974 (W.D. Tex. Mar. 31, 2020).
The preliminary injunction, issued March 31 by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman for the Western District of Texas, extended a temporary restraining order blocking the unidentified defendant from operating the website coronavirusmedicalkit.com.
The injunction also bars the defendant from committing wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C.A. § 1343 and disposing of relevant records.
In addition, Judge Pitman ordered NameCheap Inc. — the company that allegedly registered the domain to the defendant — to prevent public access to the site and serve the registrant of the domain name with the injunction.
NameCheap is not named as a defendant.
Defendant missed deadline
An FBI agent who visited coronavirusmedicalkit.com found the site offered visitors free World Health Organization coronavirus vaccine kits for a $4.95 shipping fee even though no such products exist, the Justice Department said in a March 21 complaint.
According to the complaint, the website’s actual purpose is to steal customers’ personal information.
The DOJ claims it told NameCheap about the misinformation, but the site remained publicly accessible.
The suit asserts one claim under 18 U.S.C.A. § 1345, which authorizes the U.S. attorney general to seek injunctive relief in federal court to thwart fraudulent schemes.
Judge Pitman granted the TRO March 22 after finding probable cause to believe the defendant had committed wire fraud and would cause irreparable harm unless stopped by the court. United States v. Doe, No. 20-cv-306, temporary restraining order issued, 2020 WL 1426796 (W.D. Tex. Mar. 22, 2020).
The judge ordered NameCheap to serve a copy of the TRO on the defendant and gave the defendant until March 27 to file a response to the government’s motion for preliminary injunction.
Judge Pitman granted the injunction March 31 after holding a hearing that day by telephone.
The judge said the defendant did not respond by the deadline or appear at the hearing, and therefore waived the right to respond to the government’s motion.
He again found probable cause to believe the defendant had violated and will continue to violate the statute prohibiting wire fraud, and barred the defendant from using the domain name and destroying records related to the alleged misconduct.
When it filed the complaint March 21, the DOJ noted this was its first enforcement suit against COVID-19 fraud.
However, the department said that as of April 21, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center had reviewed more than 3,600 complaints related to COVID-19 scams, including websites that allegedly advertise fake vaccines and cures.