U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) announced Wednesday the launch of Operation Stolen Promise to combat COVID-19 related fraud and other criminal activity. The operation intensifies collaboration with multiple federal departments and agencies, along with business and industry representatives. Surging criminal activity surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic requires an equally robust investigative response to protect the American public.
“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 HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Alysa D. 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.”
Criminal organizations who have historically been engaged in financial scams are pivoting to exploit the coronavirus pandemic and the associated stimulus package for illegal financial gains. 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. 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. All these fraud scams also impact government public benefit agencies that are in the process of distributing aid and providing assistance.
As of April 14, 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). The launch of the operation is in direct response to the significant increase in criminal activity.
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.
HSI is partnering with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Secret Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Five Eyes Law Enforcement Working Group. Additionally, efforts span across 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).