Facemasks prominent in Europe-wide fake goods crackdown

Law enforcement agencies have made a massive seizure of counterfeit goods – including 27m facemasks – across 21 European countries.

Operation Aphrodite was an eight-month sting led by police in Italy and Ireland, carried out between December 2019 and July 2020, and focused on online sales of goods via websites and social media accounts.

The operation culminated in checks in warehouses, shops and marketplaces in Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Spain, resulting in the seizure of 28m counterfeit products.

Along with the facemasks, the haul included 800,000 counterfeit items of clothing, sportswear, footwear, personal accessories, IPTV set-top boxes and toys, and around €700,000 in cash. The operation was rejigged midway though to focus on goods associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aphrodite also led to 123 social media accounts and 36 websites selling counterfeit products to be taken down, with 10 people arrested in Greece and 37 others reported to the judicial authorities in Greece, Italy and Portugal.

“Digital platforms, such as websites, social media and instant messaging services are abused by criminal groups to sell often harmful counterfeit products,” said Europol, which assisted in the operation.

“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,” it added.

According to Europol, 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.

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