COVID-19: Global crackdown sees rise in counterfeit and unlicenced medical products

90 countries were involved in Operation Pangea XIII, the annual global coordinated operation to tackle the illegal online sale of medicines and medical devices.

Health regulatory authorities, customs and police officers from 90 countries took part in collective action aiming to prevent the illegal online sale of medicines and medical devices, including counterfeit face masks and unauthorised antiviral medication.

Operation Pangea XIII, which took place from March 3 to March 10, 2020, identified a disturbing trend of criminals taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by exploiting the high market demand for hygiene and personal protection products, resulting in 121 arrests worldwide and the seizure of potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals worth more than USD 14 million.

At least 2,000 web links, including websites, social media pages, online marketplaces and online advertisements promoted items related to COVID-19, with around 600 of them selling counterfeit face masks. In total, over 34,000 fake and unlicensed products, including “corona spray”, “coronavirus medicines” and “coronaviruses packages” were seized.

Throughout the week-long operation, authorities in participating INTERPOL countries inspected more than 326,000 packages of which more than 48,000 were seized by customs and regulatory authorities.

Led by INTERPOL, Operation Pangea aims to tackle serious organized crime globally and plays a big role in ensuring unlicensed medicines and medical devices are not making their way onto the global market.