May 5 (UPI) -- Six private companies including Amazon have partnered with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to combat illegal activity attempting to exploit the coronavirus pandemic, the federal agency said Tuesday.
Pfizer, 3M, Citi, Alibaba and Merck along with the online retail juggernaut have joined Homeland Security Investigations' National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center to fight fraud targeting the public's fears and anxieties over COVID-19, ICE said in a statement.
"HSI has made it a top priority to investigate anyone attempting to use the COVID-19 pandemic to defraud other people," said HSI Acting Executive Associate Director Alysa D. Erichs. "A robust partnership with the private sector is an absolute requirement to effectively disrupt and dismantle COVID-19 criminal networks and strengthen global supply-chain security."
The announcement comes weeks after ICE launched Operation Stolen Promise on April 15 with the aim of cracking down on COVID-19-related fraud and crime amid an increase in the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and medical equipment and trade importation violations of products purporting to treat the virus.
As of Monday, more than 315 investigations have been launched nationwide, some 3.2 million in illicit proceeds have been seized and authorities have performed 11 arrests and executed 21 search warrants, ICE said.
Investigators have also analyzed more than 19,000 COVID-19-related online domain names and seized 494 shipments of mislabeled, fraudulent, unauthorized or prohibited coronavirus test kits, treatment kits, homeopathic remedies and other such products.
3M Chairman and CEO Mike Roman said his company plays a critical role in pandemic response and preparedness and is partnering with international and national law enforcement as well as tech companies and online retailers to prevent fraud.
"We are attacking the pandemic from all angles, which includes mobilizing all our resources and rapidly increasing output of critical supplies to healthcare workers and first responders," he said in a statement. "These efforts also include combating fraud and protecting the public against those who seek to exploit the pandemic using 3M's name connected with price gouging and counterfeiting."
Dharmesh Mehta, vice president of customer trust and partner support at Amazon, said the online retailer has already stopped more than 6.5 million products with "inaccurate claims," removed more than 1 million offerings of suspected price gouging and suspended some 10,000 accounts for price gouging.
"Amazon welcomes HSI's partnership in holding counterfeiters and bad actors accountable, and we look forward to building on our long-standing relationship to protect customers and ensure a trusted shopping experience," Mehta said.