U.S. Authorities seize COVID-19 website from owner trying to sell it for bitcoin

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The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seized a COVID-19 website from its owner who was attempting to sell it for bitcoin.

According to the DOJ, the U.S. Attorney General’s Office for the District of Columbia obtained a warrant to seize the domain name, coronarevention.org.

 Allegations against the domain name owner

In the seizure warrant, the undercover special agent working with the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) said the owner (Subject A) of the domain name attempted to sell it through a forum, which is known that its users are interested in hacking and hijacking online accounts.

The seller advertised the sale of the domain name a day after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The undercover special agent alleged in his affidavit that the seller advertised in the hackers’ forum that the domain as an effective way to sell “high markup in-demand products. The seller also directed potential buyers to use an encrypted messaging application when inquiring about the purchase of the website.

The seller was selling coronaprevention.org for $500 and asked the payment to be in bitcoin.

“I know from my training and experience that such the domains can typically be purchased for approximately $20. Thus, Subject A was charging an exponential markup to sell the Target Property,” according to the undercover special agent.

Additionally, the undercover special agent alleged that the seller stated that his idea to sell “fake testing kits” using the coronaprevention.org domain was “genius.”

The seller allegedly added that he “wanted to do that but I couldn’t get enough cash to bulk buy them from Alibaba.” He allegedly gave the undercover special agent instructions on how to set up a new website on the domain using a service overseas to prevent U.S. authorities from shutting it down in the future.

The undercover special agent said their investigation showed that there is a probable cause to believe that the owner of the domain name engaged in money laundering or caused the laundering of monetary instruments. Therefore, the domain name is subject to criminal and civil seizure and forfeiture.

U.S. authorities will aggressively pursue scammers amid the COVID-19 pandemic

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

On the other hand, William S. Walker, acting HSI Philadelphia Special Agent in Charge, commented, “Sadly, criminals are using the current pandemic as an opportunity to generate proceeds while so many Americans are suffering.” He added that the HSI and its partners “will continue to aggressively pursue those who attempt to illegally capitalize on this crisis through illicit money-making schemes.”

The seizure of the coronaprevention.org domain name comes after the DOJ announced the ongoing efforts between law enforcement and private-sector companies to disrupt domain names being used to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic.