Operation Stolen Promise targets fraud, crimes related to COVID-19
In New Jersey alone, dozens of criminal investigations related to COVID-19 are on the books as part of a multi-agency initiative created to combat fraud and other unlawful acts.
Operation Stolen Promise, launched by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations, is dealing with hundreds of these investigations nationwide. As of the middle of April, millions of dollars in illicit proceeds had been seized, and thousands of COVID-19 domain names had been "sinkholed," the agency said, among other actions.
While arrests can occur, and have, the initiative additionally aims to ensure legitimate safety equipment and testing kits get to the individuals who need them most — health professionals, not hoarders or those looking to make a quick buck. As a border agency, HSI is well-versed in cases related to products coming in and out of the Garden State.
"We're also trying to protect the public," said Special Agent Brett Dreyer at the HSI office in Newark. "There's a lot of fake test kits out there, a lot of medicines that are promising to either prevent or treat COVID-19."
Test kits for at-home use among the general public are not currently in circulation. The Food and Drug Administration recently gave its first green light to an at-home sample kit, but LabCorp intends to prioritize healthcare workers and first-responders before a doctor's order can put a kit in the hands of a concerned individual at home.
HSI expects an uptick soon in scams involving financial relief, COVID-19 stimulus checks and traditional boiler room operations — high-pressure sales tactics in order to sell stocks to potential investors.
Dreyer advises residents to ignore websites or individuals selling products they allege can "prevent, treat, diagnosis or cure" the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
"You really need to go to a medical professional," he said.
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