ICE HSI Warns the Public to Stay Vigilant Against COVID Fraud

WASHINGTON – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (ICE) Highlight First 100 Days of Operation Stolen Promise with Over 500 Criminal Investigations, Over 900 Shipments Seized and over $ 7 million in seized illicit proceeds. HSI reminds consumers to remain vigilant in the face of COVID-related fraud – not only about counterfeiting and other illicit products marketed and sold to U.S. consumers, but also the emerging threat of loan fraud and loan fraud programs. relaunch of the CARES Act.

“While there are no approved treatments for COVID-19, that does not prevent fraudsters from illegally trying to sell these counterfeit or banned products and other medical supplies and test kits to US consumers,” he said. said Alyssa Erichs, Interim Executive Associate Director of HSI. “And now, on top of that, we are seeing a slight increase in CARES law fraud – which has doubled since June. We encourage everyone to be extra careful, especially when logging in online, and be aware of the red flags, to avoid falling victim to fraud. “

HSI launched Operation Stolen Promise in April 2020 to protect the Homeland from the growing and evolving threat posed by fraud and criminal activity related to COVID-19. The initiative combines HSI’s expertise in global commerce, financial fraud, international operations, cybercrime and criminal analysis to investigate financial fraud schemes, importation of prohibited pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, websites defrauding consumers and any other illicit criminal activity associated with the virus that compromises legitimate business or financial systems or endangers the public.

Since then, HSI special agents have opened 570 criminal investigations and arrested 53 people, including: one canadian man for attempting to smuggle unapproved COVID-19 test kits made in China, United States; a Georgia woman for illegally importing and selling an unregistered pesticide through an online program claiming, without any legal basis, that the illegal pesticide would protect people from the coronavirus; a Washington state physician who fraudulently requested more than $ 3 million in Paycheck Protection Program (P3) loans; and one New York City Graduate Pharmacist who violated the Defense Production Act by hoarding and raising the prices of rare N95 masks.

In conjunction with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, HSI seized 911 shipments, mostly of counterfeit substandard medical equipment and supplies, test kits, pharmaceuticals, and alleged COVID-19 treatments.

HSI Special Agents also seized more than $ 7 million in illicit proceeds, including more than $ 2.2 million in fraudulent CARES Act seizures, and recorded more than $ 17.9 million in interrupted transactions and recovered funds.

Cybercriminals immediately turned to COVID-related fraud at the start of the pandemic, first creating websites offering counterfeit personal protective equipment or defrauding customers who paid but never received the products they wanted. ‘they ordered. Some then evolved into fraud schemes offering assistance for stimulus reimbursement checks intended to steal the personally identifiable information of victims, and others offered small business loans and PPP loans in order to defraud victims or to carry out phishing attacks to steal personally identifiable information.

HSI’s Cyber ​​Crimes Center (C3) also discovered cybercriminals setting up scam fundraising websites to carry out phishing attacks on victims or trick them into donating to charity through the scam website. . The latest trend for cybercriminals is to offer pre-orders for vaccines or drugs that cure the COVID-19 virus.

In the first 100 days of Operation Stolen Promise, C3 analyzed nearly 51,000 domains and launched 83 cybercrime investigations.

“Operation Stolen Promise has yielded significant results, both statistically and in terms of the impact the initiative has had on protecting the health and safety of the American public,” Erichs said. When it comes to fraud, a key part of crime prevention begins with public education, which is why HSI created a public awareness campaign to relay critical information related to fraud and related criminal activity to the public. to COVID-19. “

HSI Releases Information On How To Recognize Potential COVID-Related Fraud On Its Operation Stolen Promise webpage, and how to report suspected fraud to the authorities.

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