COVID-19 Fraud Domain Seized from Seller Who Attempted to Sell It Using Bitcoin
Site Owner Advertised the Domain Name Coronaprevention.org on a Hackers Forum and Sought Payment in Bitcoin
WASHINGTON –The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia obtained a warrant today authorizing seizure of coronaprevention.org. The enforcement action against the owner of a fraudulent website follows Attorney General William Barr’s recent direction for the Department to prioritize the detection, investigation, and prosecution of illegal conduct related to the pandemic.
The seizure warrant alleges that the owner of the domain name, coronaprevention.org, posted it for sale on a hackers forum. The post appeared the day after the President declared a national emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The seller stated on the forum that this domain would be an effective way to sell “high markup in demand products.” The seller exponentially marked up the price of the domain. The seller asked for the payment to be made via bitcoin.
The warrant further alleges that the seller engaged in conversations with an undercover agent from Homeland Security Investigations about the sale of the domain. The seller stated that it was “genius” to sell “fake testing kits” using this domain. The seller further stated that the seller “wanted to do that but I couldn’t get enough cash to bulk buy them from Alibaba [a Chinese e-commerce site].” The seller directed the undercover agent on how to set up a new website on the domain using a foreign-based service, so as to prevent U.S. authorities from being able to shut it down in the future.
“We will not tolerate exploitation of this national emergency for personal gain,” said U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Shea. “This Office will not allow fraudsters to use anonymous online spaces and cryptocurrency to hide their harmful activities and prey on victims.”
“Sadly, criminals are using the current pandemic as an opportunity to generate proceeds while so many Americans are suffering,” said William S. Walker, acting HSI Philadelphia Special Agent in Charge. “Homeland Security Investigations and our partners will continue to aggressively pursue those who attempt to illegally capitalize on this crisis through illicit money-making schemes.”
The charges in the warrant are merely allegations, and civil forfeiture proceedings will commence in which any interested party may make a claim to ownership of the seized property.
The investigation was handled by Homeland Security Investigations (Philadelphia).
The case is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Zia M. Faruqui, Paralegal Specialist Brian Rickers, and Legal Assistant Jessica McCormick of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.