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Federal officials investigating alleged virus-related fraud in Michigan

The coronavirus pandemic has upended lives across the U.S. and around the world. Law enforcement officials say they have launched investigations to protect members of an anxious public from various forms of virus-related fraud.

Michigan investigators with the federal Department of Homeland Security have launched multiple investigations in metro Detroit as part of the national effort dubbed Operation Stolen Promise.

AHomeland Security special investigations agent Jared Murphey told the Detroit Free Press that agents are investigating financial fraud related to the government stimulus checks still being sent out to eligible citizens across the nation.

Murphey said people are being contacted by phone, text or email about stimulus payments or unemployment benefits to try to trick them into revealing personal banking and identification information.

He noted that in many situations, seniors are targeted, especially if they live alone.

He said Homeland Security Investigations (a part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has more than 200 ongoing criminal investigations tied to pandemic-related fraud across the nation. The agency is pairing with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Border Patrol and other federal law enforcement agencies in some of the inquiries.

Murphey said one of the efforts is to seize counterfeit items (often shipped from China) and protect intellectual properties.

He said Homeland Security Investigations has already shut down more than 11,000 websites created by people trying to take advantage of the pandemic. Another 13,000 sites are under investigation, he said.

Investigators are also targeting people selling bogus or substandard virus-related medicines, test kits, masks and more. Murphey characterized it as "stuff that doesn't really work."

There is some irony in the fact that those who are convicted of federal white collar crimes such as mail fraud and wire fraud can be incarcerated in prisons where officials have struggled to contain the spread of the coronavirus. 

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