By LUKE BARR, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — More than 50% of the nation’s counterfeit COVID-19 goods found since “Operation Stolen Promise” was launched 100 days ago came from China, according to Homeland Security Investigations, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security.
“Fifty-six percent of our seizures are coming from either China or Hong Kong,” Steve Francis, head of HSI’s National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center told reports on a call. “We have a list of 39 other countries where these prohibited, fraudulent or counterfeit goods have entered.”
Francis and other top Customs and Border Protection officials are set to outline the challenges in stopping counterfeit goods in front of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday.
“As you can imagine, it’s just kind of a daunting task dealing with so many different countries and organizations or bad actors that are exploiting this pandemic,” Francis said.
Francis said that 85% of all counterfeit goods over the past five years originated from China.
HSI said that over the last 100 days it has made over 911 seizures of goods including everything from fraudulent COVID-19 masks, prohibited medications and treatments, PPE and web domain names. HSI is handling about 120 financial cases related to COVID-19 and has seized over $7 million in illicit proceeds.
Francis said that as information surrounding COVID-19 becomes more transparent, the people trying to take advantage of the pandemic have also come into view.
“We’re also seeing this type of fraud where the criminals are pivoting to meet the new needs and demands,” he explained, adding that when hydroxychloroquine was touted as a potential cure, HSI and Customs and Border protection saw an increase in seizures.
Jimmy Spiro, HSI assistant director of the HSI Investigative Program, said scammers are targeting individuals and businesses.
“Criminals are taking advantage of the crisis to target individuals, businesses and governments,” Spiro explained. “On top of that, scammers are specifically targeting vulnerable populations like the elderly.”
Sprio said that scammers have now pivoted to include health-related scams like delivery of non-existent personal protective equipment, such as masks or gloves, and are pretending to be from legitimate businesses or charities — even government agencies.
HSI says it’s initiated 570 criminal investigations and made 53 arrests.
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