Nearly 28 million counterfeit and illegal goods, including 27 million facemasks, were seized as part of Europe-wide operation Aphrodite involving 21 countries, including Cyprus, Europol has announced.
The eight-month operation targeting counterfeit goods trafficking was co-led by the Italian Finance Corps (Guardia di Finanza) and the Irish National Police (An Garda Síochána) with support from Europol, and lasted from December 2019 to July 2020.
During this period, law enforcement authorities tracked online sales of a large variety of counterfeit items, culminating in checks in warehouses, shops and marketplaces in Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Spain.
The operation led to 123 social media accounts and 36 websites selling counterfeit products taken down. During the operation, law enforcement authorities seized nearly 28 million illegal and counterfeit goods among which were 800,000 counterfeit items of clothing and IPTV set-top boxes. More than €700,000 was also seized.
Moreover, the Covid-19 outbreak led the authorities to adapt the initial scope of the operation to focus on issues triggered by the pandemic. As a result, counterfeit and illegal medical equipment was also seized, including 27 million medical facemasks by the Italian Finance Corps (Guarda di Finanza)..
Digital platforms, such as websites, social media and instant messaging services are abused by criminal groups to sell often harmful counterfeit products. Illegal vendors advertise counterfeit goods with pictures and prices of fake products on social media. They also use hidden links in posts on social media to redirect users to marketplaces located outside of the EU. Offers for counterfeit goods also grew on e-commerce platforms and subsequently, their share of the market increased.
Criminals invite unsuspecting buyers to pay with prepaid cards, by wire transfer or other forms of electronic payment and web-based services as the goods are delivered through legal couriers. The COVID-19 pandemic intensified the sale of counterfeit goods on the physical market too.
Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC3) coordinated the operation and collected the results and detected existing links between the individuals involved, while providing technical and analytical support to the participating countries.