McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — With millions of COVID-19 vaccines headed to healthcare facilities nationwide, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has launched a campaign to combat vaccine fraud through its Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) department.
Teams of HSI investigators are taking part in what the agency is calling Operation Stolen Promise 2.0, a public/private sector campaign to earmark, seize and arrest counterfeiters offering fake medical remedies or equipment associated with the coronavirus vaccine. Part of that project is to launch a massive public awareness campaign in English and Spanish, HSI Deputy Special Agent in Charge Timothy Tubbs told Border Report.
“We know we’re going to see a lot of fraud related to the vaccine, which is so coveted at this time so we want the public to be aware of the fraud indicators,” Tubbs said via phone on Wednesday afternoon.
Some things the public is advised to watch out for include:
- Websites or individuals selling products they say can prevent, treat, diagnose or cure COVID-19.
- Don’t open texts or emails from unsolicited sources.
- Research charities and nonprofit organizations before donating or sending money.
- Be wary of organizations that ask for wire transfers or payments in pre-paid gift cards or money service transfers.
Tubbs said drug cartels are among organizations that already have the set up needed to extort and fraud the public.
Since the pandemic began in March, ICE HSI agents have already made over 170 criminal arrests relating to fraudulent activities associated with the coronavirus and/or stimulus checks sent by the federal government as relief aid. They have seized over $27 million in illicit proceeds, opened over 750 investigations and seized over 1,600 shipments of mislabeled, fraudulent, unauthorized or prohibited COVID-19 test kits and equipment, Tubbs said.
“Anybody who is looking to make a quick profit will be involved in this, whether it’s the narcotics cartels or individuals that usually look at commercial fraud or money laundering. Any group that’s involved in illicit activities will take advantage of this of the vaccine that’s coming out that so many people want to get their hands on,” Tubbs said.
HSI investigators in Los Angeles, helped to charge a British man with smuggling into the United States mislabeled drugs purported to be a treatment for those suffering from COVID-19. And in Georgia, HSI agents arrested a man on charges of illegally importing and selling an unregistered pesticide, and mailing a prohibited article, as part of an alleged online scheme claiming it would protect persons from COVID-19, according to the agency’s website.
The public can report any suspicious behavior or activities at COVID19FRAUD@dhs.gov