CHICAGO – Since the beginning of the pandemic, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers have seen an increase in unapproved or counterfeit COVID-19 tests being shipped through the mail system. At Chicago O’Hare’s International Mail Facility, which processes 20% of all the international mail coming into the United States, CBP has seized 11 shipments containing 1,147 prohibited test kits. The value of these kits is $10,847, and most of the kits seized came from Great Britain.
Criminals are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic for illegal financial gain. These criminals are smuggling and selling counterfeit safety equipment, unapproved testing kits, medicines, and hygiene products to individuals. To combat this, CBP is targeting imports and exports – mainly in the international mail and express consignment cargo environments – that may contain counterfeit or illicit goods.
“These products have serious consequences to everyone,” said Hans Leiterman, Assistant Area Port Director, Chicago. “CBP seizures of illegally imported merchandise helps protect the health and safety of U.S. citizens.”
Authorized testing for COVID-19 is being conducted by medical professionals in most states and at local public health laboratories across the United States. The public should be aware of bogus home testing kits for sale either online or in informal-direct-to-consumer settings and the dangers that they may pose if not administered by medical professionals.
However, the International Mail Facility at O’Hare is not the only location that has made seizures like this. Other ports that belong to the Chicago Field Office (CFO)-the largest geographical field office in CBP, are reporting seizures.
In Louisville, CBP officers have made 16 seizures totaling 187 Virus Shutout lanyards (unapproved and prohibited test kits). The Shutout devices claim efficacy against Coronavirus strains and often contain the hazardous pesticide Chlorine Dioxide. “This pesticide can leech into the skin on contact, cause breathing issues, and lead to additional health concerns for the wearer,” said Thomas Mahn, Port Director, Louisville. “The Shutout devices often lead to a false sense of security and in no way protects the bearer from the Coronavirus.”
The shipments included false or misleading claims, lacked required warnings, and do not have EPA approval as to their efficacy claim. It is also unlawful to import a Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act regulated pesticide into the United States and these shipments were ultimately seized by CBP. The domestic value of these devices was less than $4,000.
In Cincinnati, CBP officers have made 62 seizures, a total of 29,438 kits, with 52 shipments still awaiting FDA review. These kits had a domestic value of $588,760. These seizures contained counterfeit kits, as well as unapproved and prohibited test kits. Some of the larger seizures were seizures of 5,000 kits and then three other seizures of 2,000 kits a piece.
“Our officers know their role on the frontline is critical to the health and safety of the American people,” said Richard Gillespie, Port Director, Cincinnati. “At a time when the country is in the middle of a National Emergency, our officers are dedicated to protecting our citizens and ensuring their safety.”
At Indianapolis’s Express Consignment Operations hub, CBP officers made two seizures, discovering numerous plastic bags containing 4,650 COVID-19 test kits, while conducting an enforcement examination of a parcel manifested as “Test Kit Not Restricted”. A complete examination of the shipment, led to the finding of packages labeled “COVID-19 Rapid Test Device”. The test kits are not approved for use in the United States and were turned over to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“Protecting the health of the American people is one of the main priorities for CBP,” said James Moore, Port Director, Indianapolis. “This is a big seizure at this time when we are in the midst of a pandemic. This shows our CBP officers’ commitment to keep dangerous goods out of the US and ensure they are not a threat to our citizens.”
The CFO encompasses most of the Midwestern United States, covering 28 Ports of Entry (POE), 10 User Fee Airports, and 3 major Express Consignment Operation (ECO) hubs (UPS, FedEx, & DHL) in 12 states (Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, most of Minnesota, and Erie, Pennsylvania).