Interpol has announced a global crackdown on counterfeit medical and pharmaceutical supplies following a surge in demand for items as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens.
The law enforcement organization claimed in an update over the weekend that the latest push in its long-running Operation Pangea strategy had already borne fruit.
It announced the seizure of 34,000 counterfeit surgical masks, as well as “corona spray,” “coronavirus packages” and “coronavirus medicine,” and the shut down of more than 2500 web pages advertising sale of such items.
The week of action, running from March 3-10, saw an 18% increase in seizures of unauthorized anti-viral medicine compared to Interpol’s 2018 action week, and a 100% increase in seizures of unauthorized anti-malarial medicine chloroquine. Interpol said the increases were likely due to COVID-19 demand.
“Once again, Operation Pangea shows that criminals will stop at nothing to make a profit,” argued Interpol secretary general, Jürgen Stock. “The illicit trade in such counterfeit medical items during a public health crisis shows their total disregard for people’s wellbeing, or their lives.”
In total, global customs and regulatory authorities inspected 326,000 packages and seized 48,000. Alongside the COVID-19-related items, there were discoveries of large volumes of vitamins, erectile dysfunction pills, anti-cancer medication, hypnotic and sedative agents, anabolic steroids and more.
Interpol warned that often unauthorized versions of these either contain the wrong amount of active ingredient, or are genuine items but have been stolen and then improperly stored or have expired.
Europol, which took part in the operation, claimed 37 organized crime groups had been dismantled as part of the raids, €13m ($14m) in potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals seized, 121 arrests made, and a total of 4.4 million units seized.
The operation highlights the continued agility of criminal gangs in using current events to help increase illegal profits.