International crackdown, arrests begin on criminals trying to cash in on coronavirus

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One thing you can count on—whenever there is a crisis, there are criminals trying to cash in on it. Law Enforcement Today has learned that Interpol has made 121 arrests for people selling counterfeit items amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Interpol reports that they have arrested 121 criminals in 90 countries who were selling counterfeit products. The sting, called Operation Pangea XIII seized 34,000 fake surgical masks last Thursday. The pandemic has resulted in people trying to take advantage of susceptible people.

During a news conference, Interpol Secretary General Jurgen Stock said that the operation proved criminals would stop at nothing to try to profit.

The team found over 2,000 links connected to counterfeit products being sold online. The arrests involved inspecting about 326,000 packages and took place between March 3 and March 10.

Interpol, which coordinates law enforcement among 194 member countries, carried out the online operation to take down the illegal sales of medical supplies and medicine.

Fox News reports that the inspection of online sites led to authorities seizing substandard hand sanitizer, unauthorized antiviral medication and potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals which were worth in excess of $14 million.

The weblinks included websites, online marketplaces and social media pages. Interpol noted that the sites either had already been taken down or were in the process of being shut down. In a statement, Interpol said:

“The seizure of more than 34,000 counterfeit medical items during a public health crisis shows their total disregard for people’s well being or their lives.”

Police around the world have been warning about predators online trying to perpetrate fraud surrounding the coronavirus. In addition, people have been going door to door in various countries.

Last week, an advisory from the Secret Service warned Americans not to “let their guard down” and fall for scams. People are particularly vulnerable right now due to the panic that has been fostered by continuous 24/7 coverage of the pandemic by the media.

The Secret Service in particular warned Americans about “phishing,’ which is a widely-used scam where an email appear to be from a reputable company, usually a major bank or tech company, with the intention of obtaining personal information such as user names, passwords and credit card information.

Cybercriminals are taking advantage of the current pandemic crisis by sending emails that appear to be from legitimate medical and/or health organizations, the Secret Service said.

One case in particular cited that victims got a fraudulent email from a bogus medical organization with attachments purporting to have important information about COVID-19.

“This led to either unsuspecting victims opening the attachment, causing malware to infect their system or prompting the victim to enter their email login credentials,” the Secret Service added.

Another scam was discovered on Friday, in which a bogus coronavirus email claimed to be from the World Health Organization.

“Hackers and cybercriminals have been quick to take advantage of the coronavirus outbreak. This happens any time there is a public health crisis or catastrophe in which people are desperate to find more information and contribute to those affected,” Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate with Comparitech, told Fox News in February.

“The fake WHO emails follow a standard formula for phishing,” Bischoff added.

The Secret Service also cited a scheme where people use social media to dupe victims into donating to bogus charitable causes. “Criminals are exploiting the charitable spirt of individuals,” according to the advisory.

Yet another type of fraud to be on the lookout for is “non-delivery scams.” In this case, people advertise as a company that sells medical supplies used to prevent or protect against the coronavirus. The criminals will demand payment or deposits up front but never deliver the products.

This past week, the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration jointly sent warning letters to seven sellers of unapproved and misbranded products that claim to treat or prevent the virus.

They products included teas, essential oils and colloidal silver.

“The companies have no evidence to back up their claims—as required by law,” the FTC said.

The FDA added that there are currently no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products currently available to treat or prevent the virus.

The seven companies which were cited by the FTC are: Vital Silver, Aromatherapy Ltd., N-ergetics, GuruNanda LLC, Vivify Holistic Clinic, Herbal Amy LLC, and The Jim Bakker Show.

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NBC News reported several scams, including one where Starbucks is supposedly offering a $100 coupon by clicking on a link. This was determined to be a scam.

Hackers are also targeting the increasing number of telecommuters who are now working at home. Adam Levin, chairman of CyberScout offers the following advice:

“Never click on links or open attachments unless you confirm the identity of the sender. Understand that even if the sender is authentic, it is possible that he or she clicked on the wrong link and sent you a malware-laden email.”

Some people are getting downright creative. The Los Angeles Times reports that In Peru, someone claiming to “have a pact with the devil” promised to treat coronavirus, among other ailments.

On Craigslist, a post that has been since removed claimed:

“I think I found how to prevent coronavirus…from my grandmother’s herbal remedy recipe card.”

There are numerous other ones, too many to list, including price gougers selling hand sanitizers for hundreds of dollars to fake at-home coronavirus test kits coming from outside the country.

Law enforcement officials is cracking down on the scammers. In Los Angeles, city attorney Mike Feuer and LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey have formed a task force dedicated to checking both the internet and brick-and-mortar stores for fraudsters and price gougers.

They are already investigating two LA companies: CEN Group LLC., which on its website, SafeBabyHealthyChild, promoted Vitamin C as a coronavirus treatment, as well as the website mondernbeyond.com, which was selling face masks.

Scammers taking advantage of crises are nothing new. In 2003 during the SARS outbreak and again in 2009 during the H1N1 virus, colloidal silver was touted as a cure all. It was touted as a cure all for everything from cancer to AIDS, tuberculosis, diabetes and any number of other diseases.

Jim Bakker, the televangelist who spent nearly five years in jail in the 1990s for defrauding followers is the one pushing the colloidal silver product. He said, “We’ve tested, it works on just about everything.”

While holding the bottle of a product called “Silver Solution,” he asked a guest:

“This influenza that is now circulating the globe, you’re saying that silver solution would be effective?”

The guest noted it hadn’t been tested on this particular strain of the virus, but “It’s been tested on other strains of the coronavirus and has been able to eliminate it within 12 hours,” the woman said. “Totally eliminate it. Kills it. Deactivates it.”

Bakker is currently facing a lawsuit in Missouri and New York officials told him to stop promoting the silver products, which have since been removed from his website.

The bottom line is always remember the adage: Buyer beware. Also always remember; there are always scum out there looking to profit from a bad situation.

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