The COVID-19 outbreak, the response of the government to the pandemic, has created a myriad of problems for the United States. As people lose loved ones, and the unemployment rate rises to dangerous levels, there is an aspect of this situation that has gone mostly unnoticed: Fraud.
Amid the fear and uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus situation, bad actors and organizations are attempting to use the pandemic to prey upon unsuspecting Americans. In response, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently launched Operation Stolen Promise (OSP) to counteract the threats to American society posed by malicious entities.
On their website, the agency notes that “These illegal efforts not only compromise legitimate trade and financial systems, but threaten the integrity of the U.S. border, and endanger the safety and security of the American public.”
The initiative involves a collaboration between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HIS) to identify and apprehend “perpetrators who violate the laws of the United States to further COVID-19-related criminal activity.”
According to the DHS, there are several different types of fraud scams that are being perpetrated. These include cons relate to financial relief, COVID-19 stimulus checks, and “traditional boiler room operations,” which are on the rise. Organizations are importing “counterfeit and prohibited pharmaceuticals and test kits” and are “preying on Americans searching for effective treatments and testing.”
The DHS established the OSP initiative as a “multi-pronged strategic action” designed to curb the rise of illicit activities by those who seek to take advantage of the virus. It seems the operation has already had some success. The agency states that HSI agents have “seized millions of dollars in illicit proceeds; made multiple arrests; and shutdown thousands of fraudulent websites.”
The department has also coordinated with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to “seize shipments of mislabeled, fraudulent, unauthorized or prohibited COVID-19 test kits, treatment kits, homeopathic remedies, and purported anti-viral products and personal protective equipment (PPE).”
In Los Angeles, a British national was named in a federal complaint alleging that he smuggled mislabeled drugs that were ostensibly designed to treat those suffering from COVID-19. In another case, special agents detained a Georgia man in April who is accused of “importing and selling unregistered pesticides,” and mailing a “prohibited article” that claimed that the illegal chemicals would protect people from COVID-19. So far, the operation has resulted in nine criminals arrests and 91 disruptions of unlawful activity.
While the nation is experiencing the impact of the pandemic and the government’s response to the outbreak, others are attempting to use the situation to turn a profit by illegal means. The issue of fraud amid the pandemic is not at the front of people’s minds as the media seems to be primarily focused on using the virus for political purposes.
However, people must be aware of the various types of fraud that are occurring as America focuses on moving the country past the pandemic. It is in these moments that the criminal element can flourish if they stay under the radar. Fortunately, it appears law enforcement seems up to the task when it comes to stopping these bad actors.
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