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Three Vietnamese arrested over pandemic-related fraud

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HCMC – Three Vietnamese suspects have been arrested for cheating some 7,000 people in the U.S. into buying hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes worth up to US$1 million, following an investigation jointly conducted by Vietnamese and U.S. authorities, said the US Consulate General in HCMC on August 18.

Thu Phan Dinh, Tran Khanh and Nguyen Duy Toan, who all reside in Vietnam, allegedly participated in a wire fraud scheme seeking to profit from the Covid-19 pandemic as detailed in the civil complaint and the accompanying court papers filed in the United States on August 3, 2020.

According to the complaint, the suspects operated over 300 websites that fraudulently sold products that were scarce during the pandemic, including hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes.

Over 7,000 victims across all 50 states attempted to purchase these items from the websites and paid for these items but never received the products purchased.

The complaint alleged that the suspects set up hundreds of email accounts and user accounts with a U.S.- based payment processor to carry out the scheme and keep it hidden from law enforcement agencies.

The suspects are also alleged to have listed misleading contact addresses and phone numbers on the websites, leading to unaffiliated individuals and businesses in the United States receiving numerous complaint calls from victims who had been defrauded by the scheme.

The investigation originated in Tampa, Florida, in March, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) forwarded the information to the Vietnam Ministry of Public Security (MPS).

In response to the information provided by the HSI, the Vietnamese authorities conducted their own investigation and arrested the trio.

“The arrest of multiple suspects by Vietnam’s MPS clearly demonstrates that the Government of Vietnam takes Covid-19-related crimes seriously. This investigation resulted in significant financial losses to people who were already facing enormous challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” noted U.S. Ambassador Daniel J. Kritenbrink. “We are proud of the partnership between MPS and Homeland Security Investigations on this complex transnational fraud investigation.”

HSI investigators identified some 40,000 fraudulent transactions worth approximately US$975,000.

The public is urged to report suspected Covid-19-related fraud schemes to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission hotline by phone on 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or via an online reporting form available at https://www.ftc.gov/complaint. Alternatively, complaints may be reported to Homeland Security Investigations at 1-866-DHS-2ICE or online via https://www.ice.gov/tipline.

By My Huyen

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