Police organizations around the world have succeeded in closing down thousands of fake online pharmacies – and confiscating millions of products like face masks – in a coordinated enforcement effort orchestrated by INTERPOL.
Officials in France explained the program was called Operation Pangea XIV and targeted the sale of counterfeit and illicit medicines and medical products.
Among the items withdrawn from circulation were home COVID tests, sedatives, masks, syringes, catheters and surgical devices, painkillers, steroids, antiseptics, anti-cancer medication, anti-malarials and more.
The effort was supported by the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime/World Customs Organization’s Container Control Program and Europol.
It grabbed some nine million medical devices and illicit pharmaceuticals as more than 700,000 packages were checked by authorities in 92 countries.
A total of 113,020 web links for websites and online marketplaces were removed in the highest number of results since the first Operation Pangea was done in 2008.
The current operation succeeded in:
- Arresting a man in Venezuela for an e-commerce platform on WhatsApp to sell illicit medicines.
- Removing in the United Kingdom more than 3,100 advertising links for illegal medicines, closing down 43 websites and seizing three million fake medicines and devices worth $13 million.
The report said criminals still are trying to cash in on the demand for COVID-fighting products, and COVID devices and tests made up more than half of all devices seized.
“As the pandemic forced more people to move their lives online, criminals were quick to target these new ‘customers,'” said Jürgen Stock, the chief of the organization.
“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. “The online sale of illicit medicines continues to pose a threat to public safety, which is why operations such as Pangea remain vital in combating this global health scourge.”
INTERPOL explained, “Unauthorized and counterfeit medicines can be dangerous for a number of reasons. They may contain the wrong amount of active ingredient (too little, too much, or none at all), have altered expiration dates or been badly stored. This means they could be ineffective or contaminated.”
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