ICE Agents Have Seized Over $7 Million in COVID-19 Fraud Proceeds, Made 53 Arrests

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
July 29, 2020Updated: July 29, 2020

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said Tuesday that in the first 100 days of its new operation launched in response to a spike in criminal activity since the CCP virus outbreak, its agents have seized more than 900 shipments and at least $7 million in “illicit proceeds.”

Launched in April, Operation Stolen Promise set out to “protect the homeland from the increasing and evolving threat posed by COVID-19-related fraud and criminal activity,” the agency said in a news release.

As of Tuesday, ICE’s homeland security investigations unit had opened 570 probes nationwide and made 53 arrests, the agency said. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents also seized $2.2 million in “illicit proceeds” obtained through COVID-19 fraud linked to the CARES Act.

“Although there are no approved treatments for COVID-19, that isn’t stopping fraudsters from illegally trying to sell these products and other counterfeit or prohibited medical supplies and testing kits to U.S. consumers,” HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Alysa Erichs said in a statement.

Erichs said fraud related to the CARES Act has doubled since June.

“We are encouraging everyone to be extra cautious, especially when going online, and know the red flags, to prevent being a victim of fraud,” she added.

Among those arrested include a Washington state doctor who authorities say “fraudulently sought over $3 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans,” and a Canadian man who attempted to smuggle non-approved COVID-19 test kits, made in China, into the United States.

ICE said its homeland security investigations unit has found that the latest trend by cyber criminals involves offering preorders for vaccines or medicines that cure the CCP virus.

On Tuesday, Utah resident Gordon Pedersen, 60, was indicted for posing as a medical doctor to sell a “baseless” treatment for the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.

Pederson and his companies—My Doctor Suggests LLC and GP Silver LLC—fraudulently marketed silver products as a cure for COVID-19, according to U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber, who filed a civil complaint against the 60-year-old in April.

The misrepresentations include claims that “having silver in the bloodstream will ‘usher’ any coronavirus out of the body and that ‘it has been proven that alkaline structured silver will destroy all forms of viruses, [and] it will protect people from the coronavirus,’” the statement from Huber’s office said.

By early July, Americans reported losing more than $77 million to COVID-19-related fraud, according to an analysis by the Federal Trade Commission. Travel and vacations, online shopping, and fake text messages, are among the top fraud complaints, the commission found.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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