Coronavirus 'fraud domain' seized after suspect tried selling it for Bitcoin, feds say

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Federal agents seized a “fraud domain” created for selling “high markup in-demand products” during the COVID-19 pandemic after the domain’s suspected owner tried selling it for Bitcoin, investigators said this past Friday.

The seizure of “coronaprevention.org” followed a Homeland Security Investigations [HSI] Philadelphia probe in support of “Operation Stolen Promise,” a joint law-enforcement effort to prioritize the detection, investigation and prosecution of pandemic-related law-breaking.

A domain has been seized for its alleged involvement in a COVID-19 money laundering and fraud scheme. 

A domain has been seized for its alleged involvement in a COVID-19 money laundering and fraud scheme.  (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

“Sadly, criminals are using the current pandemic as an opportunity to generate proceeds while so many Americans are suffering,” said William S. Walker, the 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.”

According to a seizure warrant, the suspected domain owner posted it for sale on a forum for hackers one day after President Trump declared a national emergency over the coronavirus pandemic.

The seller allegedly touted the domain as an effective way to sell “high markup in-demand products” and exponentially marked up the price of the domain, asking for payment in Bitcoin.

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An undercover agent from HSI engaged in conversations with the seller about the sale of the domain, according to the seizure warrant. The seller allegedly said it was “genius” to sell “fake testing kits” using this domain.

The seller further directed the undercover agent on how to create a new website on the domain using a foreign-based service to circumvent U.S. authorities.

“We will not tolerate exploitation of this national emergency for personal gain,” U.S. Attorney Tim Shea said. “This office will not allow fraudsters to use anonymous online spaces and cryptocurrency to hide their harmful activities and prey on victims.”

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The domain’s seizure came amid an uptick in criminal activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Earlier this month, the FBI warned that the virus has provided criminals with illicit opportunities at “breathtaking” speed.