JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In an effort to crack down on crimes related to the coronavirus, federal agents in Northeast Florida have seized dangerous shipments of products claiming to help with COVID-19.
Homeland Security Investigations agents report criminals are preying on people during the coronavirus pandemic, trying to make millions of dollars, profiting from the crisis.
The Department of Homeland Security recently launched Operation Stolen Promise, as HSI agents investigate criminals selling counterfeit personal protective equipment, unregulated coronavirus medications and COVID-19 tests.
“Fake goods, dangerous goods, defrauding customers,” said Jim Phillips, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations Jacksonville.
The crooks are mostly trying to hock the good through illicit websites, dark web and phishing emails.
Working with U.S. Customs, Jacksonville HSI agents recently seized black market hydroxychloroquine, which some believe is a treatment for the coronavirus, in Orlando. It came from China, destined for Northeast Florida.
“We’re seeing all types of things from teabags to pills, all types of supposed cures for COVID-19,” Phillips noted.
Nationwide, the agency has opened more than 130 investigations related to coronavirus crimes.
Investigators have seized more than $3 million in illicit funds and 225 illegal shipments, shut down 11,000 websites and made nine arrests.
A Georgia woman, Vicky Sun, was recently locked up, accused of importing and selling a pesticide on eBay and claiming it would protect people from the virus. Sun illegally imported the pesticide from Japan via the U.S. Postal Service, agents said.
Agents also busted 39-year-old Christopher Parris, of Atlanta, who’s accused of trying to sell the Department of Veterans Affairs 125 million face masks and other PPE that would have totaled $750 million.
Many more cases are still under investigation, Phillips added.
“Purchase from respectable websites and manufacturers,” he warned.
Phillips added that with stimulus money going out thieves are trying to steal those emergency funds from unsuspecting citizens.
“With those checks coming out and being released, we are stepping up our targeting of those types of scams as well,” he said.
To report suspected illicit criminal activity or fraudulent schemes related to the COVID-19 pandemic, email Covid19Fraud@dhs.gov.