Police take down illegal drug websites

Police have been involved in a global operation that saw thousands of illegal pharmaceutical websites taken down in the UK

Police and health watchdogs have taken down around 13,500 illegal online pharmacy websites in a global joint operation that saw the seizure of £5m of unlicensed and counterfeit drugs.

UK cyber-police took down over 1,500 websites in the UK as part of Operation Pangea IV, Metropolitan Police Central eCrime Unit (PCeU) head Charlie McMurdie told ZDNet UK on Thursday.

"We took down several thousand websites targeting UK victims," said McMurdie. "We focused on websites advertising illegal and counterfeit pharmaceuticals. There have been numerous arrests — arrests are ongoing."

UK police, and enforcement officers from government health watchdog the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), arrested 13 people in the UK, and raided 16 addresses, as part of the raids.

In many cases the sites selling unlicensed and counterfeit medicines also uploaded Trojans and malware, McMurdie told ZDNet UK.

"People were getting scammed in a number of different ways," said McMurdie.

In total, 55 people were arrested around the world. The operation was co-ordinated by Interpol and involved authorities from 80 countries, including the UK Border Agency (UKBA). It ran between 20 and 27 September.

ZDNet UK understands the drug sellers set up sites targeting users of products such as Levitra, an erectile dysfunction pill, and Xanax, which is used to treat anxiety attacks. Some of the sites purported to be Canadian pharmacies.

The PCeU worked with UK registry Nominet, Interpol and global top-level domain (gTLD) registrars, to take down more than 12,000 generic top-level domains and sub domains. The PCeU have requested that Nominet suspends a further 500 domain names within the UK domain structure.

UK border officials and the MHRA were involved in the seizure of more than one million doses of illegal medicine, worth approximately £2m, including 52,000 doses of counterfeit pills. Internationally, officials inspected over 45,000 packages, and swooped on 2.5 million doses of unlicensed and counterfeit pills.

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