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Crackdown on Online Peddlers Nets $6.3 Million in Drugs

Oct 03, 20113 mins
CybercrimeData and Information SecurityIntel

The effort by 81 countries yanked 2.3 million potentially harmful drugs from the market

You may be seeing less spam in your inbox hawking black market prescription drugs after online sellers of the meds were targeted this week in a global law enforcement crackdown on their trade.

Those raids resulted in the seizure of illegal meds worth $6.3 million.

The offensive, the largest of its kind ever mounted against Internet bad med sellers, involved 81 countries and removed some 2.3 million potentially harmful medicines from the market, including antidepressants, antibiotics, steroids, arthritis medicine, lifestyle drugs, and diet pills.

It also resulted in the arrest of 55 suspects, who are now under investigation for a range of offenses, including illegally selling and supplying unlicensed or prescription-only medicines.

In the United States, 92 raids netted 57,052 pills, including counterfeit Cialis and Viagra, worth $925,520, based on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for the drugs.

Efforts in the U.S. were managed by the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center and included participation by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the FBI.

The week-long campaign, called Operation Pangea IV, has put a crimp in the worldwide trade on the sale of bad meds over the Net, according to World Customs Organization Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya. “Organized crime has been dealt a hard blow and its networks severely disrupted as evidenced by the successes achieved by Operation Pangea IV and its laudable efforts to stop trafficking in medicines that are often fatal to consumers,” he says in a statement issued yesterday.

One obstacle in the past in dealing with the international online trade in harmful medicines is that the problem crosses national borders. That’s less of a problem now, according to Ronald K. Noble, secretary general of INTERPOL, an international law enforcement federation with 188 member countries. “INTERPOL’s member countries and partners have shown through the success of Operation Pangea IV that the Internet is not an anonymous safe haven for criminals trafficking illicit medicines,” he observes.

He adds that the purpose of the crackdown is to shut down illegal pharmaceutical websites and identify the illegal money flows and sources behind the black market pharmaceuticals.

“Operations like this highlight why international partnerships are such an essential weapon in the fight against trafficking of counterfeit pharmaceuticals,” notes ICE Director John Morton. “People who purchase drugs should never have to be put at risk because the product is fake, unsafe or untested.”

At week’s end, Pangea investigators still hadn’t reached a final tally for their operation. However, reports from 53 countries showed that 13,495 websites engaged in illegal activity had been taken down.

Online sale of bad meds has been a big target of law enforcement this year. In August, for example, Google, in one of the largest settlements of its kind in history, agreed to pay the U.S. government $500 million to settle a case against the company involving the use of its advertising platform, AdSense, to facilitate the illegal importation of prescription drugs to U.S. consumers.

Follow freelance technology writer John P. Mello Jr. and Today@PCWorld on Twitter.