Just ahead of the Christmas sales, Europol reports the shutdown of tens of thousands of piracy websites, while officials in Bavaria and Ireland seize huge volumes of fake clothing and electronics. In Italy, authorities close several factories for fake EPAL pallets, and Interpol is warning of criminal plans involving Covid-19 vaccines.

Tens of thousands of infringing domains shut down
As they allegedly sold fakes and pirated copies on the Internet, authorities in several countries have currently taken around 22,000 domains off the Internet. Officials also seized products worth over 2.5 million euros, including counterfeit pharmaceuticals, pirated digital content and software products, cosmetics, and clothing. Investigators from 26 EU and non-EU member states1 as well as Europol and the US National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center have been involved in the operation. “Tackling the website domains selling counterfeit commodities, or involved with online piracy, has become a growing concern for all law enforcement bodies due to the versatility of the criminals, who can easily make large profits and deleting their internet tracks in a very short period of time”, said Europol. The operation, called IOS XI, was part of the global initiative In Our Sites (IOS) launched in 2014, which, for example, shut down more than 30,000 domains about a year ago.

1 Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greece, Hong Kong (China), Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Moldova, Netherlands, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America

German customs seizes a ton of counterfeit clothing
Brazen fakes, that counterfeiters presumably wanted to sell at approximately the same prices as their originals, have been seized by customs officials at the end of November in the Bad Reichenhall area in southeastern Bavaria. The officers discovered over 1,800 counterfeit polo shirts, T-shirts, jackets, and other textiles in a truck coming from Turkey, which was on its way to Hesse. Remarkably, the counterfeits had been labelled with the prices of their original versions, and the counterfeiters had produced high-quality copies of the security features and price labels. The customs officers still uncovered the scam when they discovered several tops featuring different brands but the same design. The counterfeits infringed the trademarks of 25 well-known luxury manufacturers.

Counterfeit electronics seized in Ireland
Officers of the Irish Gardaí police seized around 20,000 counterfeit electronic products in mid-November after raiding a business address and a residential premise in the Dublin area. The Intellectual Property Crime Unit of Gardaí estimates that the counterfeits are worth more than 300,000 euros and were presumably intended for sale during the Christmas shopping season. Among the fakes are video game controllers, cell phones, earphones, chargers, and hard drives. Police also confiscated packaging for more than 10,000 products that carried the trademarks of well-known companies such as Sony and Apple. The investigations are ongoing and further raids are expected, according to the official information.

Illegal factories for EPAL pallets dismantled in Italy

Investigators of the Italian Guardia di Finanza Catania have shut down four illegal factories in Sicily that produced counterfeit wooden pallets of the European Pallet Association (EPAL). The officers seized around 8,000 pallets, machines for producing the pallets, and numerous tools for applying the trademarks. For example, the counterfeiters allegedly used a homemade branding iron that was operated with a modified gas cylinder – posing an increased risk of fire and explosion. Among others, 12 illegal workers were employed in the factories to produce the counterfeits. In total, the authorities identified several companies that illegally applied the EPAL trademark to counterfeit products; while the EPAL mark ensures structural features in original products, the seized counterfeits are said to have a potentially lower construction quality and pose a significant risk of accidents.

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Interpol warns of counterfeit Covid-19 vaccines
With a recent global alert, Interpol wants to warn of potentially high levels of criminal activity related to Covid-19 vaccines. The international organization is calling on law enforcement agencies in its 194 member states to prepare for scams that focus on Covid-19 pharmaceuticals. “As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organizations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains,” warns Jürgen Stock, Secretary General at Interpol. To prepare authorities for potential cases of fraud, Interpol describes possible criminal activities as well as examples from the past where counterfeit vaccines were advertised, sold, and administered. In addition to counterfeit vaccines, Interpol also warns of fake test kits, which counterfeiters might focus on when international travel resumes – which may require further testing.

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Sources: Europol; Hauptzollamt Rosenheim; RTE; La Sicilia; Interpol