U.S. Customs and Border Patrol announced over the weekend that agents had seized a package filled with what authorities believe to be phony coronavirus testing kits, and stopped them from entering the United States.
According to a Saturday CBP news release, agents at Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday inspected a package that had been manifested as containing "purified water vials" valued at just under $200. Inside that package, they actually found six plastic bags that contained numerous vials full of white liquid. The vials had been labeled "Corona Virus 2019nconv (COVID-19)" and "Virus1 Test Kit," authorities said.
The agency says that the shipment came in on a flight from the United Kingdom and the suspected fraudulent tests were turned over to the Food and Drug Administration for testing after they were seized.
"CBP commits substantial resources to detect, intercept and seize illicit goods arriving in the air package environment," LaFonda Sutton-Burke, CBP's LAX Port Director, explained in a statement in the release. "Smugglers are constantly attempting to take advantage of consumers by disguising their illicit goods as legitimate shipments."
The agency goes on to say that authorized testing for the coronavirus — formally known as COVID-19 — is currently being conducted "in verified state and local public health laboratories across the United States" and that consumers need to be on the lookout for "bogus home testing kits for sale either online or in informal direct to consumer settings."
Carlos Martel, CBP's director of field operations in Los Angeles, said the "significant interception, at a time when the U.S. is in the midst of a national emergency, demonstrates our CBP officers' vigilance and commitment to ensure dangerous goods are intercepted and not a threat to our communities and our people."
As U.S. officials pointed out last week, the ongoing worldwide outbreak of the novel coronavirus creates a prime opportunity for scammers and criminals to try to take advantage of other people's fears and uncertainty.
The FDA and Federal Trade Commission sent multiple companies warning letters last week "for selling fraudulent COVID-19 products," accusing the corporation of making phony health claims about products like teas, essential oils and colloidal silver. The FDA says that there are still no approved vaccines or treatments for the fast-spreading virus and that "investigational products are in the early stages of product development and have not yet been fully tested for safety or effectiveness."
After the FDA and FTC announcement, the U.S. Secret Service also issued a warning for people to be on their guard against various online scamming and phishing attempts related to the coronavirus outbreak.
"Criminals are opportunists, and as seen in the past, any major news event can become an opportunity for groups or individuals with malicious intentions. The Coronavirus is no different," the federal law enforcement agency warned in a statement. "In fact, the Coronavirus is a prime opportunity for enterprising criminals because it plays on one of the basic human conditions … fear."