“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 Steve Francis, the assistant director for global trade investigations at ICE and the head of the agency’s Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center. “We’re trying to stay ahead of these criminal organizations, who are very creative in finding ways to try to exploit people.”
During the first phase of the ICE operation this spring, the agency targeted criminals who were trying to ship counterfeit personal protective equipment, such as fake N95 masks, as well as phony tablets of drugs like hydroxychloroquine, an unproven treatment that President Trump has repeatedly promoted.
ICE has analyzed more than 700 pandemic-related criminal investigations since April, seizing $27 million in illicit profits and shutting down 70,000 website domains, Francis said.
The agency is more worried about data theft and financial fraud than criminal groups shipping fake vials of the vaccine, Francis said: “We’re concerned that people will go online searching for ways to become vaccinated, and they will be asked to register to receive treatments by providing personal identifying information.”