In its largest European law enforcement operation ever, Europol has seized 20,000 packages of counterfeit medicine, mobile phones, and accessories from social media platforms. The crackdown also closed 10,000 illegal marketplaces, and more than 1,000 accounts.
Called Operation Aphrodite, the joint investigations were led by Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC³), along with Italian Guardia di Finanza and law enforcement authorities from nine EU member states – Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the UK. Authorities investigated social media accounts and platforms that were suspected of selling fake goods.
On offer were counterfeit medicines, sports clothing and equipment, mobile phones, purses, jewelry, sunglasses, clothing, watches, perfumes, cosmetics, and illegal IPTV set-top-boxes. Lasting three months, from late November 2017 through February 2018, Operation Aphrodite included investigation of more than 250 individuals. Europol and its partners have prosecuted at least 100 suspects, and numerous investigations are ongoing.
The internet continues to be a popular avenue for intellectual property crime, according to Europol. Social media platforms make it easy for criminals to post and share offerings for fake goods and pirated content. Increasingly, Europol is gathering evidence against suspected counterfeiters, and also monitoring social media and sales platforms.
Online marketplaces, also called e-stores, are growing rapidly. Such platforms also use social media channels to advertise merchandise, which in numerous cases, are fake goods. Sellers use communication channels such as messaging apps, to process sales transactions. Customers usually pay via Paypal or prepaid cards, and couriers deliver the packages. “Consumers need to be informed of the use of social media as many of these platforms are used by criminal networks,” warns Europol’s IPC3 site.
The Europol IPC3 is funded by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), and is central to the EU’s response to this crime area. It works to stem the tide of intellectual property crime. Counterfeit goods hits the EU particularly hard, accounting for about five percent of imports annually.