BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office said Friday it has seized a website, which claimed to be the website of an actual biotechnology company associated with the World Health Organization and developing a Covid-19 vaccine, but instead allegedly was used to collect personal information of site visitors to use for fraud, phishing attacks and deployment of malware.
People who visit the site (freevaccinecovax.org) now will see a message that the federal government has seized the site and be redirected to another site for more information, according to a statement from the office.READ MORE: Baltimore Officials Ask Biden For More Federal Resources On The Ground To Combat Violent Crime
“This is the ninth fraudulent website seeking to illegally profit from the COVID-19 pandemic that we have seized,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner. “Members of the public should not provide personal information or click on links in unsolicited e-mails and should remember that the COVID-19 vaccine is not for sale. The Federal government is providing the vaccine free of charge to people living in the United States. Working with our partners at (Homeland Security Investigations,) we will continue to aggressively prosecute fraudsters who seek to prey on unsuspecting residents and their families.”
HSI needs to make an example out of the people running these sites to deter others, said James Mancuso, special agent in charge for the HSI Baltimore Field Office.READ MORE: Officials Investigating After DC Pedestrian Bridge Collapses On Wednesday Afternoon
“It’s a scary thought but what HSI wants the public to understand is all a bad guy needs to defraud thousands of Americans in search of COVD-19 information is the ability to create a website combined with malicious intent,” he said.
In analyzing the domain, HSI found the site was created on April 27 using an IP address located in Strasbourg, France. The registrant country is listed as Russia, according to the statement.
The site featured trademarked logos for Pfizer, WHO and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. When visitors selected a city and clicked on the apply button, a PDF file written in Cyrillic would be downloaded to the user’s computer.MORE NEWS: Jury Selection Underway In Capital Gazette Mass Shooting Case
HSI has identified tips to recognize and report COVID-19 fraud. If you believe you are a victim of a fraud or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, you may also call the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or for more information visit justice.gov/coronavirus.