The fear caused by COVID-19 provides an “in” for fraudsters to exploit thousands of Americans by posing as biotech companies.
The Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office announced they had seized three domain names yesterday. The websites “healthbridgescience.com,” “global-pandemic-vaccines.com” and “genobioscience.com” all claimed to be biotech companies but their intentions were much more sinister.
These companies collected personal information of individuals visiting the sites and then, according to the Department of Justice, used it for “nefarious purposes, including fraud, phishing attacks, and/or deployment of malware.”
U.S. citizens reported about 500,000 cases of imposter scams to last year. “Genobioscience.com” and “healthbridgescience.com” were two of the sites that popped up on the Homeland Security and the National Intellectual Property Rights Center radar last month. The fraudulent sites displayed a nearly identical theme and design as the legitimate biotechnology company except for the subsection tab information.
“The danger with these illegitimate sites is that they can appear legitimate to the average viewer—all the more reason to exercise caution when searching for COVID-19 pandemic information,” said Special Agent in Charge James Mancuso for HSI Baltimore.
The Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) Cyber Crimes Center found another illegitimate biotech site, named “Global-pandemic-vaccines.com,” during the investigation. When HSI called the contact phone number for the site, an unknown person agreed to sell them counterfeit vaccines.
Sadly, this is not uncommon. About 1 in 5 people affected by imposter scams will lose money. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates fraud connected to the pandemic has cost Americans $382 million and imposter scams cost Americans about $1.2 million last year.
The best way to prevent these losses is through education and a healthy dose of skepticism.
“Don’t provide personal information or click on links in unsolicited e-mails and 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,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jonathan F. Lenzner.
(HSI) launched Operation Stolen Promise (OSP) last year to protect Americans from the increasing COVID-19-related fraud. They recommend the following tips to protect against fraud involving counterfeit vaccines and treatment:
- Always consult with a licensed medical professional to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine or treatment.
- Do not purchase COVID-19 vaccines and treatments over the Internet.
- Do not purchase COVID-19 vaccines and treatments through an online pharmacy.
- Ignore unsolicited offers for vaccinations and miracle treatments or cures.
- Don’t respond to texts, emails or robocalls about vaccines and treatments.
- Be wary of ads for vaccines and treatments on social media.
- Report any suspicious activity involving COVID-19 vaccines and treatments to COVID19FRAUD@dhs.gov
If you believe you are a victim of a fraud or attempted fraud involving COVID-19, call the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721.