Crackdown on fake medicines trade: Thousands of counterfeit online pharmacies shut worldwide

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 Crackdown on fake medicines trade: Thousands of counterfeit online pharmacies shut worldwide
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  • A record number of web links, including websites and online pharmacies, have been closed under an Interpol-led Operation.
  • Fake COVID-19 tests, face masks and sanitizers made a significant proportion of the counterfeit products.
  • The counterfeit medicines are distributed via the dark web, e-commerce and social media platforms, messaging applications, and rogue pharmacies.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, scams, fraud, and phishing activities have increased dramatically. Besides, the threat of selling counterfeit medicines and medical products is also on the rise. Organized crime groups benefit from elevated demand for medicines, personal protection, and hygiene products in the present time. These groups are making huge profits from the sale of fake drugs and other medical products.

A record number of web links, including websites and online pharmacies, have been closed under the Interpol-led Operation Pangea XIV. The operation targeted the sale of fake and illicit medicines as well as medical products.

Source: © Konevaelvira |

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Interpol updated that the authorities in ninety-two countries shut down more than 100K websites and online pharmacies selling fake medicines and medical products last month.

Interpol highlighted that so far, the maximum number of counterfeited products reported by member countries include:

  • Medicines: Antivirals, herbal medicines, and treatments of malaria.
  • Medical equipment: Face masks, disinfectants, fake COVID-19 test kits, gloves and ventilators.
  • Sanitizers: Substandard hand sanitizers, gels, soaps and cleaning wipes.

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The majority of these products are distributed via rogue pharmacies, social media and e-commerce platforms, messaging applications, and the dark web.

The operation was coordinated by Interpol and involved police, customs and health regulatory authorities from ninety-two nations. Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organisation, facilitates international cooperation between police forces.

In Venezuela, a person was arrested after developing an e-commerce program on WhatsApp to sell and commercialize illicit medicines.

In the UK, the authorities have removed over 3,100 advertising links for the illegal sale and supply of unlicensed medicines, in addition to the seizure of three million fake drugs and devices worth ~US$13 million.

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Fake COVID-19 testing kits and face masks

These counterfeit products also include vast quantities of fake COVID-19 tests and face masks. The unauthorized COVID-19 testing kits accounted for more than 50% of all medical devices taken during 18-25 May.

In Italy, authorities have recovered over 500K fake surgical masks and thirty-five industrial machines for production and packaging.

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Risks associated with fake medicine

Counterfeit and unauthorized medicines can be dangerous for several reasons. For example, they may contain the incorrect amount of active ingredient (too little, too much, or none at all), could have altered expiration dates or been stored in poor storage conditions. This suggests that counterfeit medicines could be ineffective or contaminated.

It was also found that some fake medicines contained traces of arsenic, cement, mercury, or rat poison. In other cases, the medicines could be genuine but were stolen and then stored in poor conditions or had expired. This means these medicines could be contaminated or ineffective.

How to spot fake medicines?

Counterfeit or fake medicines are often packaged to a high standard with fake pills that look identical to the packaging of genuine medicine. Sometimes a laboratory test is the only way to distinguish between fake and authentic products. However, it is essential to take care while purchasing medicines, especially online.  “six Ps” can be looked at to differentiate between fake and original medical products-


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