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U.S. immigration agency targets coronavirus-related fraud

A member of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Removal Operations (ERO) (San Francisco and Northern California) Fugitive Operations teams is pictured during an operation in San Jose, California, U.S. September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Kate Munsch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Coronavirus fraud is being targeted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under a new operation that has led to the seizure of bogus protective equipment and COVID-19 test kits, and over $3 million in illicit proceeds, the agency said on Wednesday.

Operation Stolen Promise was launched as a direct response to a spike in criminal activity since the coronavirus outbreak, ICE said in a statement, noting it will collaborate with the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and other U.S. and international partners.

As of Tuesday, ICE’s homeland security investigations unit had seized 225 shipments of fraudulent products, opened over 130 probes nationwide, made nine arrests, executed seven search warrants, and sinkholed over 11,000 COVID-19 domain names, the agency said.

“Surging criminal activity surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic requires an equally robust investigative response to protect the American public,” the agency said.

Americans have reported losing more than $13 million to coronavirus-related fraud this year, according to an analysis published on Wednesday by the Federal Trade Commission. The top fraud complaints were tied to travel and vacations, online shopping and fake text messages, the commission found.

Reporting by Ted Hesson; Editing by Richard Chang

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