Covid-19 Pandemic Scofflaws Spark ICE HSI Launch of Operation Stolen Promise
WASH. D.C./BORDER – Amidst the Covid-19 pandemic’s flurry of activity sparked by anxiety has arisen a dark swarm of fraudulent criminal activity. To protect the nation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) announced Wednesday’s launch of Operation Stolen Promise.
As of April 14th, to combat COVID-19-related fraud and other criminal activity, “HSI special agents have opened over 130 investigations nationwide, seized over three million dollars in illicit proceeds, made nine arrests, executed seven search warrants, sinkholed over 11,000 COVID-19 domain names and worked alongside U.S. Customs and Border Protection to seize over 225 shipments of mislabeled, fraudulent, unauthorized or prohibited COVID-19 test kits, treatment kits, homeopathic remedies, purported anti-viral products and personal protective equipment (PPE),” said said HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Alysa D. Erichs. “The launch of the operation is in direct response to a significant increase in criminal activity.”
In addition, increases in financial scams and fraudulent medical and/or safety-products are on the rise. “Criminal organizations that have historically been engaged in financial scams are pivoting to exploit the coronavirus pandemic and the associated stimulus package for illegal financial gains,” said Erichs. “These networks are smuggling and selling counterfeit safety equipment and prohibited testing kits, medicines, and hygiene products, as well as running illicit websites to sell their merchandise.”
As the nation sees historical record-breaking surges in unemployment and temporarily- and/or permanenetly-closed businesses, “In the coming weeks, it is expected that financial fraud scams involving financial relief, COVID-19 stimulus checks, and traditional boiler room operations will increase,” stated Erichs. “All these fraud scams also impact government public benefit agencies that are in the process of distributing aid and providing assistance.”
HSI’s partnership is a collaboration with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Postal InspectionService, the U.S. Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Five Eyes Law Enforcement Working Group. Efforts span multiple HSI components including the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, HSI International Operations, the Illicit Finance and Proceeds of Crime Unit, and the Cyber Crimes Center (C3).
“HSI will bring every asset to bear against anyone targeting consumers with financial schemes or fraudulent products that jeopardize the health and safety of Americans,” said Erichs. “This unified effort brings a whole-of-government approach to monitor, investigate and arrest those responsible for endangering the public with criminal acts of fraud related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Operation Stolen Promise will combine HSI’s expertise in global trade investigations, financial fraud and cyber investigations with robust private and public partnerships to disrupt and dismantle this criminal activity and strengthen global supply-chain security. To report suspected illicit criminal activity or fraudulent schemes related to the COVID-19 pandemic, email Covid19Fraud@dhs.gov.