As part of its ongoing efforts to stop coronavirus-related fraud, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) obtained a temporary restraining order to close hundreds of websites that purported to sell products that became scarce during the pandemic, according to a press release.
The enforcement action alleged Vietnam residents Thu Phan Dinh, Tran Khanh and Nguyen Duy Toan engaged in wire fraud to profit from the pandemic. The defendants operated more than 300 websites that fraudulently purported to sell products that became scarce during the pandemic, including hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, the release stated.
Federal law enforcement officers alleged thousands of buyers in every U.S. state paid for these items from the defendants’ websites, but the victims never received the purchased products, according to the release.
The complaint alleges Dinh, Khanh and Toan established hundreds of email addresses and accounts with a U.S. payment processor to execute the scheme and keep it hidden from law enforcement, the release stated.
U.S. District Judge Charlene Edwards Honeywell issued a temporary restraining order requiring the website’s registrar to disable the sites immediately, according to the release. Vietnamese authorities have also conducted their own investigation and arrested the defendants.
Last week, SocialCatfish.com, an identity verification nonprofit, reported U.S. losses from COVID-19 fraud and ID theft have reached nearly $100 million since the pandemic emerged in March, and the number of complaints about pandemic-related scams has doubled in most states.
California, Florida, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania accounted for one-third of more than 150,000 instances of COVID-related fraud reported nationally by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) since mid-March, costing victims $97.5 million.
In Preventing Financial Crimes Amid The COVID-19 Pandemic, PYMNTS reported digital fraud and other forms of financial crime are also on the rise due to the uncertainty and confusion surrounding the crisis. Twenty-two percent of Americans have reported being targeted by COVID-19-related fraud, and these scams have seen more than 1.2 million Canadian dollars ($865,800) stolen in Canada as well as 800,000 pounds ($1 million) in the U.K.