Homeland Security agents have seized more than $7M in COVID-19 fraud proceeds, made 53 arrests

A close up shot of a pair of handcuffs on a table.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced Tuesday that Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents have seized more than 900 shipments of counterfeit or substandard medical equipment and supplies -- including test kits and purported treatments for COVID-19.

The agency made the announcement to mark 100 days since the April launch of Operation Stolen Promise, meant to "protect the Homeland from the increasing and evolving threat posed by COVID-19-related fraud and criminal activity."

In addition to the seizure of hundreds of shipments, HSI said its agents had initiated 570 criminal investigations and made 53 arrests. Agents have also seized more than $7 million in "illicit proceeds," including $2.2 million obtained through fraud related 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,” said HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Alyssa Erichs in a statement.

Those arrested include a Washington state doctor who authorities say "fraudulently sought over $3 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans." A Georgia woman was also arrested after attempting to import and sell unregistered pesticides that she alleged claimed would protect people from COVID-19.

"We are seeing an uptick in CARES Act fraud which has doubled since June," Erichs said. "We are encouraging everyone to be extra cautious, especially when going online, and know the red flags, to prevent being a victim of fraud."