ISIS allegedly ran a COVID-19 PPE scam site

ISIS allegedly ran a COVID 19 PPE scam site

Enlarge / Uh, you did not purchase your masks at FaceMaskCenter.com, proper?

Kilito Chan / Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic, and tens of millions of individuals determined for scarce protecting tools like masks and Tyvek fits, has offered a bonanza for scammers. Now, in keeping with the US Department of Justice, evidently even ISIS has gotten in on the game.

In a collection of civil and prison complaints and forfeiture notices launched this week, the Justice Department has revealed that it seized tons of of bitcoin and ethereum accounts, tens of millions of {dollars}, and 4 web sites from recognized Islamic extremist teams that had been utilizing these accounts and funds to help terrorist operations. Prosecutors say the forfeited crypto belongings from the teams, which embrace ISIS, the al-Qassam Brigades, and al Qaeda, symbolize “the government’s largest-ever seizure of cryptocurrency in the terrorism context.” The cryptocurrency haul alone totals greater than $1 million in keeping with Chainalysis, a blockchain-focused agency whose instruments had been used within the investigation.

Among the jihadist fundraising efforts the DOJ has nixed, nonetheless, one stands out as notably brazen. Court paperwork [PDF] element how an ISIS agent allegedly ran a rip-off site for COVID-19 private protecting tools, or PPE, referred to as FaceMaskCenter.com.

ISIS’ participation within the COVID-19 PPE rip-off trade is simply a part of a wave of fraud that has flooded the Internet for the reason that COVID-19 pandemic started, says Mark Turnage, chief govt of DarkOwl, a safety agency that is tracked COVID-19 scams online for months. “We’ve seen a massive volume of illegitimate materials like PPE being sold and never delivered,” Turnage says. “The fact that ISIS decided to get into this business, too, isn’t really surprising. Everyone’s a capitalist. They’re leveraging the pandemic, too.”

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According to 1 civil grievance, a confidential supply linked an ISIS “facilitator” who used the alias Murat Cakar with the operation of FaceMaskCenter.com, in addition to 4 Facebook accounts that marketed the location. Cakar is believed to be chargeable for managing a number of ISIS hacking operations; the grievance alleges that he obtained $100,000 from Zoobia Shahnaz, an American lady who had deliberate to journey to Syria to affix ISIS, and who pleaded guilty to material support of terrorism in 2018 after laundering ISIS funds with bitcoin.

FaceMaskCenter.com claimed to supply FDA-approved N95 face masks, in addition to a variety of different PPE, together with Tyvek fits, gloves, goggles, and thermometers. “FaceMaskCenter is the original online personal protective equipment supplier and was the first of its kind,” learn the site, which now shows only a seizure notice from the DOJ, US Treasury, and Department of Homeland Security.

It’s not completely clear to what diploma FaceMaskCenter was an outright rip-off, or whether or not it merely bought substandard PPE. The civil grievance towards FaceMaskCenter.com states the masks supplied on the location, for example, had been produced by a Turkish firm and didn’t meet FDA requirements, as marketed. When an US buyer contacted FaceMaskCenter asking to purchase masks and different PPE for hospitals, nursing properties, and fireplace departments, the DOJ says a Syrian nationwide based mostly in Turkey responded with a suggestion of as much as 100,000 masks, a quantity the grievance describes as unrealistic given the shortage of masks throughout the world pandemic. It’s unclear whether or not any masks had been really delivered.

FaceMaskCenter additionally claimed to be run by “sanitary experts,” and to have been based in 1996, when the truth is the area was registered in late February of 2020, in keeping with court docket paperwork. “There are a lot of different red flags,” says DarkOwl’s Turnage. “You can usually test just from the date of the creation of the domain whether this is a legitimate supplier versus someone who is just trying to capitalize on the pandemic.”

Aside from that PPE website seizure, the DOJ says that the IRS, FBI, and DHS’s Homeland Security Investigations unit additionally dismantled funding operations for al Qaeda and the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the militant wing of Hamas. According to a blog post from blockchain forensics agency Chainalysis in regards to the operation, brokers seized a complete of greater than $1 million in cryptocurrency, largely from an unlicensed cash providers enterprise allegedly run by a Turkish man named Mehmet Akti. Chainalysis additional writes that al Qaeda additionally funneled its cryptocurrency donations, solicited on the web and on Telegram, by means of BitcoinTransfer, a bitcoin change based mostly in Idlib, Syria.

But ISIS seems to have been distinctive among the many teams—not less than based mostly on the habits captured within the indictment—in utilizing a COVID-19 rip-off to boost cash, quite than mere appeals for donations. The result’s that determined prospects of FaceMaskCenter.com could not have simply been stiffed on orders of life-saving tools, however unknowingly contributed to violent extremism, too.

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