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May 7, 2020El Paso, TX, United StatesCovid-19

ICE HSI El Paso investigating COVID-19-related fraud, such as unauthorized test kits, face masks, diluted cleaning solutions, anti-viral products

Consumers cautioned to buy pharmaceutical, medical, cleaning supplies only from legitimate, trusted sources

EL PASO, Texas – Criminal organizations continue to try to smuggle fraudulent, mislabeled, and unauthorized COVID-19 related products, such as purported anti-viral products, personal protective equipment (PPE), and test kits across the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border.

Special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) are collaborating with U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP), and other law enforcement partners, to seize this merchandise, investigate the schemes, and warn the public of the health and safety risks involved in buying and using these fraudulent and tampered products.

In the past few weeks, HSI El Paso special agents have opened several investigations and seized various fraudulent COVID-19 related merchandise valued at nearly $140,000. They have also collaborated with CBP officers to seize the following:

  • Two shipments of unauthorized COVID-19 test kits
  • Five shipments of purported anti-viral products, and
  • Four shipments of mislabeled and FDA unapproved face masks

The test kits and face masks were mislabeled in violation of Importation, Removal and Contrary to Law (19 U.S.C. 1595a(c)(2)(A)) and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. A shipment of Clorox and hand sanitizers were tested and found to be have been diluted.

“It’s a tragedy that greedy, unscrupulous individuals would risk the health and lives of people to make a quick buck,” said Erik P. Breitzke, acting special agent in charge of HSI El Paso. “HSI and our law enforcement partners are working diligently to prevent these unauthorized and potentially unsafe products from entering the marketplace to ensure the safety of the American people”.

“CBP officers are working hard to keep their communities safe. Stopping unapproved, diluted and potentially unsafe products before they reach the consumer can help save lives,” said CBP El Paso Director of Field Operation Hector Mancha. “Those purchasing PPE, cleaning supplies and other products in attempt to protect themselves during the pandemic should only do so through trusted and established providers.”

TIPS for secure online shopping:

  • BEWARE of websites or individuals selling products claiming to prevent, treat, diagnose or cure COVID-19.
  • DO NOT click on unsolicited emails or texts.
  • ENSURE a secure browser connection: HTTPS only.
  • VERIFY website trust seals before placing an order.
  • REMEMBER that U.S. government websites end in .gov
  • INSPECT the URL of the website to verify the destination.
  • BEWARE of product information written in a foreign language or with misspellings.

HSI is the primary investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security for COVID-19 investigations. However, HSI El Paso is collaborating with the West Texas COVID-19 Coordination Group and our federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to combat healthcare and consumer fraud, price gouging, and federal loan fraud.

In April, HSI launched Operation Stolen Promise to prevent and investigate illegal criminal activity surrounding the pandemic, strengthen global supply-chain security and protect the American public. Operation Stolen Promise combines HSI’s expertise in global trade, financial fraud, international operations and cyber-crime to investigate financial fraud schemes, the importation of prohibited pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, websites defrauding consumers, and any other illicit criminal activities associated with the virus that compromises legitimate trade or financial systems or endangers the public.

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 worked alongside U.S. Customs and Border Protection to seize 494 shipments of mislabeled, fraudulent, unauthorized or prohibited COVID-19 test kits, treatment kits, homeopathic remedies, purported anti-viral products and personal protective equipment (PPE).

The IPR Center, which stands at the forefront of the United States government’s response to combating global intellectual property theft and enforcing international trade laws, is working with its 25 federal and industry partners to identify, interdict, and investigate individuals, companies, and criminal organizations illegally importing COVID-19-related products.

The public is urged to report suspected COVID-19 fraud to COVID19FRAUD@DHS.GOV.

HSI’s S.T.O.P. COVID-19 Fraud campaign is a key public outreach component of Operation Stolen Promise. The campaign relays critical information to the public related to COVID-19 fraud and criminal activity. The campaign provides facts, tips, and red flags and will guide the public on how to recognize potential fraud, protect themselves from it, and report it to authorities.