A national Homeland Security operation aimed at combating fraud related to the novel coronavirus resulted in the seizure of thousands of phony COVID-19 testing kits, N95 masks and fake medications in Buffalo.
Homeland Security special agents and U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Buffalo said they seized 6,000 fraudulent COVID-19 test kits, 3,400 N95 masks, and thousands of purported treatment pills to include Hydroxycloroquin Sulfate, Lainhua Qingwen Jianonang, Levofloxacin, Avelox, Chloroquin Phosphate, Azithromycin, and Chloroquine. More than $110,000 in illicit funds tied to COVID-19 fraud was also seized, officials said.
The investigation, dubbed Operation Stolen Promise, involves multiple federal agencies as well as business and industry representatives. Officials said it was launched in response to surging criminal activity surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The unfortunate reality is there are criminal enterprises actively exploiting Americans while they are at their most vulnerable,” said Homeland Security Buffalo Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kelly. “But these heartless criminal groups should be forewarned that while some aspects of regular life have been temporarily paused, HSI and CBP are still actively and aggressively pursuing those who operate these illicit schemes.”
Officials said criminal organizations that have historically engaged in financial scams are pivoting to exploit the coronavirus pandemic and the associated stimulus package for illegal financial gains. The 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, according to Homeland Security officials.
In the coming weeks, HSI Buffalo anticipates that financial fraud scams involving financial relief, COVID-19 stimulus checks, and traditional boiler room criminal operations will increase. All these fraud scams impact and burden government public benefit agencies that are in the process of distributing aid and providing assistance.
As of May 4, HSI special agents nationally have opened more than 315 investigations nationwide; seized more than $3.2 million dollars in illicit proceeds; made 11 arrests; executed 21 search warrants; analyzed over 19,000 COVID-19 domain names; and worked alongside U.S. Customs and Border Protection to seize 494 shipments of mislabeled, fraudulent, unauthorized or prohibited COVID-19 test kits, treatment kits, homeopathic remedies, purported anti-viral products and personal protective equipment (PPE).
“CBP and HSI are partners in combating cross-border illegal activity,” said Buffalo Field Office Director Rose Brophy. “We will continue to work together to protect the public from those who are attempting to profit from this pandemic.”
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