Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Coronavirus: Business and technology in a pandemic

Europol eradicates criminal gangs flogging fake coronavirus medicine, surgical masks

€13 million in potentially dangerous drugs, touted as coronavirus cures or immune system boosters, have been seized so far.

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Europol has seized €13 million in drugs being illegal peddled to consumers concerned about contracting coronavirus

On Monday, the European law enforcement agency said a worldwide investigation, dubbed Operation Pangea, has brought together police from over 90 countries in a bid to stem a rising flood of criminal enterprises relating to COVID-19. 

The pandemic has prompted panic-buying, not only stripping shelves of basic necessities but also medication and masks, the latter of which some individuals believe will help protect them -- leaving medical staff short of equipment. 

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To capitalize on the current behavior of many members of the general public, criminal gangs are flogging not only medicines that are either fake or in the wrong hands could cause serious damage, but also counterfeit surgical masks. 

Operation Pangea, coordinated by Interpol, took place between March 3 and 10, 2020. Local authorities from 90 countries swooped in on suspected criminal sellers, dismantling 37 organized crime groups in the process. 

In total, €13 million in potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals were confiscated, the majority of which were painkillers and antibiotics. After inspecting 326,000 packages and seizing 48,000, 4.4 million illegal drug packets and medications were taken off the streets. 

"The results of the operation revealed a worrying increase in unauthorized antiviral medications and the antimalarial chloroquine," Europol said. 

CNET: Coronavirus timeline: How the disease spread across the globe

In addition, law enforcement has seized close to 34,000 counterfeit surgical masks. While they may have been touted as for coronavirus prevention, Europol says these products were fake. The organization also seized a range of counterfeit self-testing kits for HIV and glucose monitoring.

Law enforcement has made 121 arrests so far. The operation is ongoing. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled the spread of fake products and advice as an "infodemic" -- and a battle that is going to continue for as long as the COVID-19 outbreak. 

TechRepublic: 2020 tech conferences: Dates, locations, and which events are changing due to COVID-19

Online retailers are trying to stop price-gouging and takedown products claiming to be preventative or cures. Amazon, for example, has removed at least one million products from its digital shelves in recent weeks, and two men from the United States are now under investigation for profiteering after being booted off the marketplace for price-gouging their stockpile of 18,000 hand sanitizers. 

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