Representatives from private industry and the federal government have joined forces to combat fraud and other illegal activity surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. Homeland Security Investigations National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) is working with experts from Pfizer, 3M, Citi, Alibaba, Amazon, and Merck to crack down on the many scammers that have popped up with this pandemic. HSI and various law enforcement agencies have seen a significant increase in criminals attempting to capitalize and profit from the fear and anxiety surrounding the virus.
“Scammers and other criminals are exploiting this time of anxiety and uncertainty to take advantage of consumers’ fears, and HSI has made it a top priority to investigate anyone attempting to use the COVID-19 pandemic to defraud other people,” HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Alysa Erichs said. “A robust partnership with the private sector is an absolute requirement to effectively disrupt and dismantle COVID-19 criminal networks and strengthen global supply-chain security.”
HSI — the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security — launched Operation Stolen Promise in April to investigate criminal activity surrounding the pandemic and strengthen global supply-chain security.
“Pfizer is committed to delivering for the world breakthroughs that change patients’ lives,” Albert Bourla, Pfizer chairman and CEO, said. “We are dedicated to protecting patients and applaud the National Intellectual Property Rights Center’s efforts to address harmful and misleading offers for counterfeit and substandard medicines or from fraudulent scams that put patient’s and first responders health and safety at risk.”
As of May 4, HSI special agents have opened over 315 investigations nationwide; seized over $3.2 million dollars in illicit proceeds; made 11 arrests; executed 21 search warrants; analyzed over 19,000 COVID-19 domain names; and seized 494 shipments of illegal COVID-19 test kits, remedies, and personal protective equipment (PPE).
“At 3M, we play a unique and critical role in pandemic preparedness and response,” Mike Roman, 3M chairman and CEO, said. “As a result, we are attacking the pandemic from all angles, which includes mobilizing all our resources and rapidly increasing output of critical supplies to healthcare workers and first responders. These efforts also include combating fraud and protecting the public against those who seek to exploit the pandemic using 3M’s name connected with price gouging and counterfeiting.”
The IPR Center, which combats global intellectual property theft and enforces international trade laws, is working with its 25 federal and industry partners investigate individuals, companies, and criminal organizations illegally importing COVID-19-related products
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Amazon has proactively stopped more than 6.5 million products with inaccurate claims, removed over 1 million offers for suspected price gouging, suspended more than 10,000 selling accounts for suspected price gouging and referred the most egregious offenders to federal and state law enforcement across the country,” said Dharmesh Mehta, Amazon vice president, customer trust and partner support. “Amazon welcomes HSI’s partnership in holding counterfeiters and bad actors accountable.”