The United States Attorney’s Office has seized a fraudulent COVID-19 domain name after its owner attempted to sell it in exchange for Bitcoin (BTC).
The action follows Attorney General William Barr’s request that the department prioritize detecting and prosecuting illicit activities relating to the coronavirus pandemic.
A warrant obtained by the U.S. The Department of Justice alleges that the owner of coronaprevention.org listed the domain for sale “on a hackers forum” the day after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in response to COVID-19.
The seller’s ad promoted the domain as an effective means to sell “high markup in demand products,” pricing the site at a premium.
Fraudster tries to offload COVID-19 domain for $500
An affidavit included in the warrant from Michael Johnson, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, or HSI, since 2003, asserts that on April 13, an HSI officer engaged the domain’s owner on the forum.
The HSI agent pretended to be selling fake coronavirus test kits, which the site’s owner described as “genius,” adding that they had intended to sell fraudulent tests but “couldn’t get enough cash to bulk buy them from Alibaba.”
The owner requested $500 worth of BTC for the domain, with the HSI agent making a partial payment on April 20.
As such, Johnson asserts that there is probable cause suggesting that the domain’s owner “has laundered monetary instruments, caused the laundering of monetary instruments, and aided and abetted the laundering of monetary instruments.”
The domain has taken down and redirected to the Justice Department’s notice of seizure.
Dark web vendors capitalize on COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic has seen vendors on dark web marketplaces sell a litany of fraudulent items relating to COVID-19.
Alongside fake antidotes and vaccines, surgical masks, hand sanitizer, and even toilet paper is being sold at an exorbitant premium on numerous darknet markets.
In an extreme example, one seller was identified to be offering bats of blood and saliva that are purportedly infected with COVID-19.