Global Police Close Record Number of Fake Pharma Sites

A global policing operation has led to the closure of over 110,000 websites and online marketplaces selling fake pharmaceuticals, according to the international organization Interpol.

The organization said that Operation Pangea XIV involved law enforcement, customs and regulatory officers from 92 countries.

As well as the removal of 113,020 fake sites — the largest number since the long-running operation began in 2008 — counterfeit medicines and COVID-19 testing kits were 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.

Many drugs were hidden amidst other items such as clothing, jewellery, baby toys and food.

In Qatar, officials apparently discovered 2,805 painkillers secreted inside tins of baked beans.

During the week of action, May 18-25, fake and unlicensed COVID-19 kits accounted for over half of all medical devices obtained by police. Some 277 arrests were also made worldwide, and potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals worth more than $23 million were seized, Interpol said.

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 total, global police took nine million devices — including syringes, catheters, masks and testing kits — and 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’,” he added.

“Whilst some individuals were knowingly buying illicit medicines, many thousands of victims were unwittingly putting their health and potentially their lives at risk.”

In March last year, a previous iteration of Operation Pangea led to the seizure of $14 million worth of fake goods.

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