Interpol has issued a global alert to law enforcement agencies around the world warning them that organised crime networks may try to sell fake Covid-19 vaccines or steal real supplies.
An INTERPOL assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on cybercrime has shown a significant target shift from individuals and small businesses to major corporations, governments and critical infrastructure.
As part of an international operation, Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC3) seized 33,654 domain names distributing counterfeit and pirated items online. This takes the total to more than one million that have been seized in the past 12 months. Continue reading Over 33,000 Domain Names Seized Selling Counterfeit Goods in Latest Operation In Our Sites
Interpol led an international operation that included the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and a number of other international regulatory and law enforcement agencies that targeted over 450 domain names and 465 websites that illegally sell potentially dangerous, unapproved versions of opioid, oncology and antiviral prescription drugs. The operation saw 3,671 web links closed down, including the websites, as well as social media pages and online marketplaces.
This effort was part of Operation Pangea XI, the eleventh annual International Internet Week of Action (IIWA). This is a global cooperative effort, led by Interpol, to combat the unlawful sale and distribution of illegal and potentially counterfeit medical products sold on the internet.
âThe sale of potentially dangerous and counterfeit drugs by criminal networks on the internet is a large and growing threat to the public health. The illegal online pharmacies that weâre taking action against are often run by sophisticated criminal networks that knowingly and unlawfully distribute illicit drugs, including potentially counterfeit medicines and controlled substances both on the surface and dark web. Consumers go to these websites believing that theyâre buying safe and effective medications. But consumers are being put at risk by individuals who put financial gains above patient safety,â said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. âIâm particularly concerned about the ease with which consumers can gain access to controlled substances and prescription opioids online. This is one reason why weâve stepped up our efforts, both from a policy and enforcement standpoint, to take these bad actors down. Todayâs major operation by FDA, together with our international regulatory and law enforcement partners, demonstrates that weâll aggressively pursue those who place patients at risk and seek to profit from illegal products.â
The multi-pronged enforcement strategy under Operation Pangea XI was aimed at identifying the makers and distributors of illegal prescription drugs and removing these products and their sources from the supply chain.
As part of this operation, the FDAâs Office of Criminal Investigations (OCI) special agents initiated several criminal investigations involving illegal online pharmacies. One recent investigation resulted in the recent arrest and indictment of a San Diego resident known as âThe Drug Llamaâ on a dark net marketplace. The suspect in this case is alleged to be responsible for shipping more than 50,000 tablets containing fentanyl throughout the United States using the dark net and other means.
INTERPOL coordinated the operation with support from the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC), the Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers (WGEO), Europol, the Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI), as well as Twitter, Facebook and payment card companies as well as the FDA.
During Operation Pangea XI, the FDA sent warning letters to seven different networks that were operating a total of 465 websites offering misbranded and unapproved drugs to U.S. consumers. In addition, more than 450 domain names were brought to the attention of search engines and the appropriate domain name registries and registrars. These include domains such as nextdaypills.com, top-meds-discounts.com, and bestgenericstore.com. This yearâs Operation Pangea also took place at three of the nine international mail facilities (IMFs) in the U.S., as well as at other facilities around the world. During three and four-day screening sessions at Chicagoâs OâHare International Airport, New Yorkâs John F. Kennedy International Airport and in San Francisco, FDA investigators found products attempting to make their way into the country from places such as India, the United Kingdom, China and El Salvador. Of the 626 packages examined, 794 products were refused entry into the U.S. Sixty-two products were identified as being purchased from internet sites operating in the United Kingdom, Canada and India.
To target the infrastructure supporting the illegal online sales of drugs, a series of recent OCI cybercrime investigations focused on credit card processors involved in an arrangement known as âtransaction launderingâ or âfactoring.â Under this scheme, the business operations process payments for illegal online drug networks through shell companies such as clothing stores or florists that are seemingly not related to online pharmacies. The FDAâs investigation of these payment schemes led to a federal indictment charging a complex conspiracy related to transaction laundering for online pharmacies.
Another aspect of this yearâs operation is a continuation of an effort that started back in 2012. As part of Operation Pangea V conducted in 2012, the FDA sent warning letters to the Canada Drugs Online Pharmacy Network. After the network ignored these letters, OCI began an investigation that culminated in April 2018 when Kristjan Thorkelson, a resident of Manitoba, Canada, together with several Canadian companies associated with Thorkelson, including Canada Drugs, admitted to widespread illegal sales of misbranded and counterfeit prescription drugs in the United States. The Canadian companies were sentenced to forfeit $29 million of the proceeds of their illegal scheme, to pay a fine of $5 million, and to five years of probation. The court sentenced Thorkelson individually to pay a fine of $250,000 and to five years of probation with the first six months in home confinement. Thorkelson and the associated companies were also ordered to permanently cease their illegal operations, surrender to the U.S. thousands of domain names and websites from their businesses and to cooperate with the U.S. Department of Justice and the FDA in ongoing and future criminal investigations conducted by the agencies.
An operation led by Interpol in conjunction with Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC³), the US National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Centre and law enforcement authorities from 27 EU Member States and third parties, seized over 20,520 domain names in an operation that was revealed to coincide with Cyber Monday this week. The domain names were used for websites that were offering counterfeit goods, for example luxury products, sportswear, electronics, pharmaceuticals and online piracy on e-commerce platforms and social networks.
This joint global recurrent operation ‘In Our Sites’ (IOS) was implemented in 2014 and has since increased significantly. The eighth edition in 2017 of this global operation saw a big range of anti-counterfeiting associations and brand owner representatives joined law enforcement authorities participating in this huge worldwide action, to facilitate international cooperation and support the countries involved in this initiative. A total of 7,776 websites have been seized in the previous editions.
This year’s operation IOS VIII has seen a remarkable increase of up to 20,520 seized domain names that were illegally selling counterfeit merchandise online to consumers. This can be explained by the holistic approach which Europol followed with the aim of making the internet a safer place for consumers, by getting even more countries and private-sector partners to participate in this operation and provide referrals.
“This excellent result shows how important and effective cooperation between law enforcement authorities and private-sector partners is, and how vital it is if we are to ultimately make the internet a safer place for consumers,” said Rob Wainwright, Executive Director of Europol. “Through its Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC³), Europol will continue to work closely with its partners to strengthen the fight against intellectual property crime online and offline.”
“Targeting copyright-infringing websites that market dangerous counterfeit goods to consumers and engage in other forms of intellectual property theft will continue to be a priority for law enforcement,” said acting IPR Center Director Nick Annan. “Strengthening our collaboration with police authorities around the world and leaders of industry will reinforce the crackdown on IP crimes, and demonstrate that there is no safe haven for criminals committing these illicit activities.”
Europol and the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) continued to join efforts in 2017 by successfully supporting many high-priority investigations related to online crimes, providing training related to online investigations, and organising a conference on Innovative Strategies for Effective Enforcement in Antwerp, Belgium, on 19-20 September 2017.
One of the participants in the IOS, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations arrested two Mexican nationals earlier this year for allegedly operating a counterfeit airbag business out of their residence in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dina Gonzalez-Marquez and Emilio Gonzalez-Marquez were charged with conspiring to traffic in counterfeit goods and two counts of trafficking in counterfeit goods. The two Mexican nationals facilitated the listing and selling of counterfeit airbag modules and airbag covers through their online website airbagsplace.com, and conducted in person sales of the counterfeit goods.
As part of HSI’s enforcement actions the website domain name was seized and the merchant account used to facilitate the illegal activity was shut down. If convicted on the charges in the indictment, Dina Gonzalez-Marquez and Emilio Gonzalez-Marquez each face a statutory maximum penalty of ten years in prison and a maximum fine of $2 million.
The easy access to the internet has made fighting counterfeiting and piracy a worldwide challenge. Counterfeiters’ ability to remain anonymous and operate thousands of web domains brings significant challenges for both the private sector and law enforcement efforts directed at taking down rogue websites and tracking down the individuals behind them. Furthermore, it has become increasingly easy to become a victim of counterfeiting. Mindful of this, Europol’s IPC³ has produced a new awareness video for consumers about the risks of ordering counterfeit medicines online. This phenomenon knows no limits – in the best-case scenario, fake medicines leave patients with no ill effects but also with no cure and in many other cases, they could even be life threatening.
Europol also wants to help consumers identify illicit websites selling counterfeit goods. For more information about the risks of buying counterfeits and other means used by counterfeiters, such as fake social media accounts and fake apps, visit Europol's dedicated web page.
Over 10,000 websites were taken down and rogue domain name registrars targeted as nearly 200 enforcement agencies across 111 countries took part in Operation Pangea VII. The operation targeted criminal networks behind the sale of fake medicines via illicit online pharmacies. The operation led to 237 arrests worldwide and the seizure of nearly US$36 million worth of potentially dangerous medicines.In terms of the number of participating INTERPOL member countries, Operation Pangea VII is the largest-ever global operation targeting fake medicines. It resulted in the launch of 1,235 investigations, the removal of more than 19,000 adverts for illicit pharmaceuticals via social media platforms and more than 10,600 websites shut down.In the UK alone £8.6 million ($14.5m) of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines were seized along with 3.6 million doses of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines, five arrests and the shutdown of 1,891 websites.In addition to interventions on the ground, which included the identification and dismantlement of three illicit laboratories in Colombia, the operation also targeted the main areas exploited by organized crime in the illegal online medicine trade: rogue domain name registrars, electronic payment systems and delivery services.Operation Pangea VII was coordinated by INTERPOL, with the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC), the Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers (WGEO), the Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI) and Europol, with support from the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) and private sector companies including G2 Web Services, LegitScript, MasterCard, Microsoft,PayPal and Visa.As well as raids at addresses linked to the illicit pharmaceutical websites, some 543,000 packages were inspected by customs and regulatory authorities, of which nearly 20,000 were seized during the international week of action (13 – 20 May).Among the 9.4 million fake and illicit medicines seized during the operation were slimming pills, cancer medication, erectile dysfunction pills, cough and cold medication, anti-malarial, cholesterol medication and nutritional products.”The sole focus of the organized crime networks behind the sale of these fake and illicit medicines is to make money, and they do not care about the potentially life-threatening consequences of their actions,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble.”Operation Pangea has again demonstrated that the joint efforts of law enforcement agencies around the world and with the support of the private sector can have a significant impact in helping to protect the public and turn back crime,” said the INTERPOL Chief.Following the discovery of the illicit laboratories in Bogota, INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau in Colombia issued the first ever INTERPOL Purple Notices – which seek or provide information on modi operandi, objects, devices and concealment methods used by criminals – in relation to pharmaceutical crime.NCB Bogota also requested INTERPOL Blue Notices requesting further intelligence regarding suspects in a criminal organization related to pharmaceutical crime in order to trace and locate them.”The results from Operation Pangea VII are not just about the seizures and arrests, but also about demonstrating the growing commitment from member countries in tackling these crimes, and their increasing expertise,” said Aline Plançon, head of INTERPOL’s Medical Products Counterfeiting and Pharmaceutical Crime (MPCPC) unit.”The interceptions and seizures physically stop these potentially life-threatening medicines from reaching unsuspecting consumers, but equally as important is shutting down the online platforms used by organized crime to target the public,” added Ms Plançon.Throughout Operation Pangea VII, INTERPOL’s General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon served as the central hub for information exchange among the participating countries and agencies. From this base, the WCO’s Regional Intelligence Liaison Office for Western Europe coordinated activities between participating customs administrations via CENcomm and the Pangea team, and a mobile Europol office also conducted cross-checks.Operation Pangea VII is part of INTERPOL’s Turn Back Crime global awareness campaign, which aims to educate society about the ways in which organized crime infiltrates our daily lives, and to assist the public in protecting themselves.
Following a visit to INTERPOL’s General Secretariat headquarters by some of ICANN’s bosses, INTERPOL has expressed a desire for closer collaboration with ICANN and to be an observer on their Governmental Advisory Committee.
During the visit, ICANN President and CEO Rod Beckstrom and INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble discussed closer collaboration on internet security was discussed with cyber-security, financial and high tech crime being top of the agenda as well as governance and enhancing common means for preventing and addressing internet crime.
Cybersecurity is an issue of growing importance with everything from the domain name system to vital infrastructure such as energy supplies threatened from cybercrime.
In the US, the White House has developed a cybersecurity guidelines with the goal of protecting much of the nation’s infrastructure.
Attending with Beckstrom was ICANN’s Vice President and Chief Security Officer, Jeff Moss, Vice President of Government Affairs Jamie Hedlund, and Alice Jansen of their Organisational Reviews unit.
“We seek the active engagement of law enforcement in our multi-stakeholder community where all parties are welcome. We recognise Interpol as an important international leader in this field,” said Mr. Beckstrom. “We are very pleased by its expression of interest in joining the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee as an observer.”
With ICANN the global coordinator of domain names and Internet protocol addresses, and INTERPOL the world’s largest international police organisation, Secretary General Noble said: “Both organisations are international, both are politically neutral, and both are focused on the good of the world. Both also care about improving the security of the Internet for the future.”
“The Internet has no borders, and neither do the criminals who exploit it. As the Internet’s role in society continues to increase in scope and importance, it is vital for INTERPOL to help create bridges between the international law enforcement community it represents and ICANN in order to advance Internet security practices for the benefit to all,” added Secretary General Noble.
As part of efforts to enhance their cooperation, both organisations agreed during the visit that an INTERPOL delegation would attend ICANN’s international conference in Singapore next month, 20-24 June, when INTERPOL’s membership of the ICANN’s GAC as an international observer will be explored.