DHS plans widespread crackdown in anticipation of COVID-19 vaccine fraud schemes
COVID-19 Vaccine (AFP)

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Homeland Security investigators are planning a widespread crackdown on criminals intending to exploit people's desperation for doses of the upcoming COVID-19 vaccines.

"Pfizer and Moderna, the two drug companies that applied for emergency vaccine approval this week, have said they will produce enough doses for about 20 million people this month. Health-care employees, law enforcement personnel and other front-line workers are expected to be first in line," reported Nick Miroff. "Production will ramp up after that, but it will probably take several months for companies to make enough doses for the nation’s entire population of 330 million. Fraudsters looking to exploit that unmet demand are a concern for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that announced a new operation this week to stop them."

Already, federal officials have busted COVID-19 fraud schemes involving counterfeit N95 masks and fake tablets of hydroxychloroquine — an anti-malaria drug touted by President Donald Trump as a potential cure even as studies have failed to find any evidence it helps COVID-19 patients.

However, physical fake vials of vaccine are not the only threat.

“We’re especially concerned about financial fraud schemes, as people who are thinking they’re going onto legitimate websites are asked to provide financial or personal data,” said ICE Assistant Director for Global Trade Investigations Steve Francis. “We’re trying to stay ahead of these criminal organizations, who are very creative in finding ways to try to exploit people.”

According the report, "ICE has opened more than 700 pandemic-related criminal investigations since April, seizing $27 million in illicit profits and shutting down 70,000 website domains."