Operation Pangea VII Shuts Down Thousands of Fake Online Pharmacies in Largest Operation Yet

Operation Pangea, Interpol’s annual cooperative effort with law enforcement and customs agents from throughout the globe, targets fake online pharmacies and the drug-counterfeiting criminals that run them. In its seventh year, Operation Pangea VII shut down over 10,000 fake online pharmacies, and seized 9.4 million doses of fake drugs.

On May 22, 2014, Interpol announced that they had just completed Operation Pangea VII with the assistance of law enforcement from 111 countries, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Started in 2008, Operation Pangea targets Internet sales of counterfeit and black market medications, according to Interpol's information page about the effort.

Operation Pangea VII ran from May 13-20th. In addition to shutting down 10,600 fake online pharmacies, it removed more than 19,000 advertisements placed on social media websites globally, reports Interpol.  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. The operation was supported by efforts from MasterCard, Visa, Microsoft, PayPal, G2 Web Services and LegitScript.

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The FDA reports that its participation in Operation Pangea also targeted mail facilities, which “resulted in the detention or seizure of 19,618 packages containing medicines purportedly from Australia, the United Kingdom (UK), New Zealand and Canada. These packages actually contained unapproved or suspected counterfeit drugs from other countries, such as India, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Mexico, Laos, Malaysia, as well as Australia, New Zealand and the UK.”

As Douglas Stearn, director of the FDA‘s Office of Enforcement and Import Operations explained, “When consumers buy prescription drugs from outside the legitimate supply chain, they cannot know if the medicines they receive are counterfeit or even if they contain the right active ingredient in the proper dosages. Consumers have little or no legal recourse if they experience a reaction to the unregulated medication or if they receive no therapeutic benefit at all. In addition to health risks, these pharmacies pose other risks to consumers, including credit card fraud, identity theft or computer viruses.”

Interpol reports that among the counterfeit medications seized globally, they found diet treatments, cancer medication, ED medication, cough and cold medication, anti-malarials, drugs for treating high cholesterol and dietary supplements.

Thomas T. Kubic, PSM officer and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI) commented that “Interpol’s sustained efforts and masterful coordination of the nearly 200 enforcement agencies during Operation Pangea VII is indeed noteworthy. Illegal transnational organized crime groups exploit patients through false representations that the medicines they peddle through their online websites are safe. Today’s announcement underscores the fact that law enforcement officers have become increasing vigilant and stand ready to take effective, coordinated actions against these criminals where ever they try to hide.”

By S. Imber