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Phony coronavirus vaccine site shut down by federal agents


(WASHINGTON) — Federal investigators announced Monday they seized a website that they say fraudulently offered coronavirus vaccines in order to allegedly steal users’ personal information.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland seized freevaccinecovax.org, which purported to be the website of an actual biotechnology company and used trademarked logos from Pfizer, the World Health Organization and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The site collected user’s personal data “in order to use the information for nefarious purposes, including fraud, phishing attacks, and/or deployment of malware,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

“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,” Acting U.S. Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner said in a statement.

An analysis of the site by the United States Department of Homeland Security investigations indicated the domain name was created on April 27 using an IP address located in Strasbourg, France, and the registrant country was listed as Russia, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The fraudulent website contained a “Select your city” drop-down menu and “Apply” and “Upload application” buttons, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

After a user selected a city and clicked “Apply,” a PDF file written in Cyrillic was downloaded to their computer, and they were instructed to fill it out and upload it back onto the site, federal investigators said.

“Individuals visiting the site will now see a message that the site has been seized by the federal government and be redirected to another site for additional information,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news release.

The federal government has seized nine websites that sought to illegally profit off the pandemic, Lenzner said. The other fraudulent sites offered vaccines and COVID-19 antibody treatments, according to investigators.

The U.S. Attorney’s office recommends that anyone who suspects online fraud concerning the pandemic call the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or log onto justice.gov/coronavirus.

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