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Federal crackdown on phony Covid-19 items and vaccine fraud numbers revealed

Millions of dollars seized, hundreds of arrests
Federal crackdown on phony Covid-19 items and vaccine fraud
Posted at 4:42 AM, Jun 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-11 21:32:55-04

Since the start of the pandemic News 5 has been watching out for you by providing warnings about numerous scams and rip-offs designed to take advantage of the coronavirus crisis. Now, we're learning how federal investigators are taking down the con artists.

A year ago the Department of Homeland Security launched Operation Stolen Promise to combat counterfeit COVID-19 items and vaccines. Results of that effort show investigators found plenty of people were trying to make money off of the pandemic.

When it comes to COVID-19 counterfeit and substandard products, federal agents conducted 2,174 seizures in the last year, getting prohibited COVID-19 test kits, drugs and masks off the streets.

"Frequently we'll see large shipments come in where the top layer is legitimate, but underneath that will be a whole host of counterfeit masks and things," said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Keith Custer.

As part of the crackdown of those counterfeit COVID-19 products, more than 81,000 websites were investigated and federal agents made 292 criminal arrests while seizing more than $52 million.

As federal agents worked to find those counterfeit COVID-19 items, another threat emerged with coronavirus vaccines being rolled out nationwide. Con artists began trying to move counterfeit and unauthorized vaccines.

When we spoke with Colorado's attorney general back in January he saw the need for action as well.

"We just got the penalties raised because this behavior is atrocious. Preying on people's fears about this virus is so wrong and if people are doing it we want to go after them," Attorney General Phil Weiser told News5 at the start of the year.

When it comes to COVID-19 vaccine fraud, federal agents with Operation Stolen Promise opened 41 cases, removing 33 websites, and seized $2.9 million.

As our communities begin to rebound from the pandemic fraudsters and scammers continue to change their tactics. Now they're focusing on things like vaccine cards.

If you have questions or would like to report concerns you have you can reach out to fraud investigators in Colorado and at the federal level.