Global Police Operation Closes Fake Pharma Websites

A global policing operation has led to the closure of over 100,000 websites and online marketplaces that were selling fake pharmaceuticals worth over $23m, according to Interpol and police operations have arrested 227 suspected criminals. 

A record number of fake online pharmacies have been shut down under Operation Pangea XIV targeting the sale of counterfeit and illicit medicines and medical products. 

The Interpol operation involved police, customs and health regulatory authorities from 92 countries. It resulted in 113,020 web links including websites and online marketplaces being closed down or removed, the highest number since the first Operation Pangea in 2008.

As well as the removal of the largest number since the long-running operation began there has also been counterfeit medicines and COVID-19 testing kits being seized after raids and checks on suspicious packages.In the UK, for example, the authorities shut down 43 websites and removed 3100 ad links and seized three million fake medicines and devices worth over $13 million. 

Nearly 300 arrests were  made worldwide and potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals worth more than $23 million were seized, Interpol said. 

  • During the week of action, May 18th -25th fake and unlicensed COVID-19 kits accounted for over half of all medical devices obtained by police.
  • UK authorities have now removed more than 3,100 advertising links for the illegal sale and supply of unlicensed medicines and 43 UK-based websites were closed down.
  • In Italy, the authorities recovered over 500,000 fake surgical masks and 35 industrial machines used for production and packaging, illustrating the scale of many underground operations.
  • In Qatar, officials apparently discovered 2,805 painkillers secreted inside tins of baked beans.

In total, global police took nine million devices, including syringes, catheters, masks and testing kits , pharmaceuticals, including painkillers, steroids and anti-cancer drugs. 

Interpol secretary-general, Jürgen Stock, warned that fake pharmaceuticals and testing kits are putting public health at risk at a dangerous time. “As the pandemic forced more people to move their lives online, criminals were quick to target these new ‘customers... Whilst some individuals were knowingly buying illicit medicines, many thousands of victims were unwittingly putting their health and potentially their lives at risk.” he said

In March 2020, an earlier operation led to the seizure of $14 million worth of fake goods. The global pharmaceutical industry is worth more than $1tn. Vast supply chains stretch from key manufacturers in places such as China and India to packaging warehouses in Europe, South America or Asia and distributors sending medicines to every country in the world.

Interpol:       TRT World:      Infosecurity Magazine:    Oodaloop:     BBC:    OCCRP:    Image: Unsplash

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