FILE - A police officer guards the barricaded entrance of an alley where one of its residents is has COVID-19 in Hanoi, Vietnam, July 29, 2020.
FILE - A police officer guards the barricaded entrance of an alley where one of its residents is has COVID-19 in Hanoi, Vietnam, July 29, 2020.

Vietnamese authorities have been arrested and charged three people with wire fraud involving a scheme related to the novel coronavirus pandemic that defrauded thousands of Americans out of nearly $1 million. 

A statement released Tuesday by the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Vietnam says the three suspects, Phan Dinh Thu, Tran Quoc Khanh and Nguyen Duy Toan, operated more than 300 websites that offered hand sanitizers and other products that had disappeared from department stores’ shelves at the start of the pandemic.  Over 7,000 victims in all 50 states paid for these items, but never received them.

An investigation launched by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security found that hundreds of email accounts and user accounts were set up with a U.S.-based payment processor to carry out the scheme and kept it hidden from law enforcement.  The defendants are also accused of listing misleading contact addresses and phone numbers on the websites, which led to unaffiliated individuals and businesses in the U.S. to receive numerous complaints from victims who had paid for the fake items.

U.S. Homeland Security passed on the information to the Vietnam Ministry of Public Security, which launched its own investigation that led to the trio’s arrest.  

“This investigation resulted in significant financial losses to people who were already facing enormous challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” U.S. Ambassador Daniel J. Kritenbrink said in the embassy’s statement.  Kritenbrink said the action “demonstrates the Government of Vietnam takes COVID-19 related crimes seriously.”

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