LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Since April, federal agencies across the United States have seized millions of dollars worth of counterfeit items related to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials told the I-Team. As the first coronavirus vaccines are distributed, investigators are concerned phony vaccines are next.
“Transnational criminal organizations would love to exploit anything in order to make a buck,” Juan Estrada, deputy special agent in charge of homeland security investigations, told us.
The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have seized hundreds of thousands of fraudulent test kits, fake treatments, non-medical grade personal protective equipment and medication since the start of the pandemic.
Last week, federal agents in Texas seized 100,000 counterfeit masks headed for an East Coast hospital, federal authorities said.
“Whether it’s an individual who’s trying to make a fast buck, or a business who is trying to take advantage of opportunities in foreign countries in order to bring in products that aren’t approved, we look out for those things, and we work as a joint team,” Estrada, who is based in Las Vegas, said.
Federal agents have even seized cleaning products in their original bottles that are so diluted, they no longer work.
The work is part of Operation Stolen Promise, an initiative that has yielded nearly 200 arrests and seized $26 million in proceeds from these counterfeit items, Estrada said. Homeland Security is moving forward with Operation Stolen Promise 2.0, focusing on the vaccine and other treatments.
With the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arriving in Las Vegas, authorities know phony vials are the next counterfeit item on the horizon.
“This vaccine has a specific way to be transported,” Estrada warned. “It’s not something you can get off at your local drug store.”
In general, buyer beware: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
“See something, say something,” Estrada said. “Let us know.”
You can report fraudulent and counterfeit COVID-related items by emailing COVID19FRAUD@DHS.GOV.