Counterfeiting and COVID-19: A Global Update

Published: May 15, 2020

Counterfeiters are taking advantage of the COVID-19 outbreak, duping consumers into buying fake essential items such as face masks, medicines, and medical equipment. Below is a snapshot of activity that has occurred in response to the rise in counterfeit goods amid the pandemic. The Anticounterfeiting Committee (ACC) has been monitoring the situation regionally through its subcommittees and globally through the Global Customs Project Team. 

INTA and the ACC have offered support to the World Customs Organization (WCO), INTERPOL, Europol, and local law enforcement authorities during this time by sharing information on counterfeiters that are taking advantage of the global pandemic. 

The ACC recognizes that pre-screening and the targeting of shipments at borders may be increasingly difficult as counterfeiters produce a growing number of essential items to be transshipped. Finally, there is a concern that as borders begin to reopen, an influx of counterfeit goods will begin making its way to unsuspecting consumers looking for essential items such as foodstuffs and medical equipment. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the counterfeiting trade, the Anticounterfeiting Committee has offered its support to international and local law enforcement agencies in providing up-to-date trends and targeting information to authorities to better combat and pre-screen counterfeit essential items entering the borders. 

Information Sharing with Enforcement Officials 


During the week of March 3, INTERPOL conducted Operation Pangea XII, which coordinated the law enforcement efforts of 90 countries worldwide targeting counterfeit medicines and medical products. The operation resulted in 2,000 sites selling products related to the coronavirus, with 30 percent selling counterfeit surgical masks. The operation resulted in the seizure of 34,000 counterfeit and substandard goods related to COVID-19. INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock was quoted as saying, “Once again, Operation Pangea shows that criminals will stop at nothing to make a profit. The illicit trade in such counterfeit medical items during a public health crisis shows their total disregard for people’s wellbeing, or their lives.” 

United States 

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) on April 15 announced the launch of Operation Stolen Promise to combat COVID-19‒related fraud and criminal activity. As of April 14, HSI reported the seizure of more than $3 million in illicit proceeds and the seizure of more than 225 shipments of mislabeled, fraudulent, unauthorized, or prohibited COVID-19 test kits, treatment kits, homeopathic remedies, purported antiviral products, and personal protective equipment (PPE) in coordination with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

World Customs Organization

The WCO launched an Intellectual Property Rights CENcomm Group to share data about the rise of counterfeiting during the COVID-19 pandemic with its members. The WCO will distribute the data to the customs community around the world and is asking brand owners for any new trends as they target counterfeiters, such as: 

  • Emerging criminal activities or changes in modus operandi related to the pandemic crisis (online selling or offering to sell counterfeit medicine or medical materials, masks, and coronavirus diagnostic kits);
  • Developments or indicators of developments related to intellectual property crime (price changes, new routes, etc.)
  • Increases in infringements related to quarantine measures (game piracy, use of inferior quality products by home delivery services, etc.).

European Union

EUROPOL released its “Pandemic Profiteering: How Criminals Exploit the COVID-19 Crisis” report on March 27. Among its key findings, the report finds that the “sale of counterfeit healthcare and sanitary products as well as personal protective equipment (PPE) and counterfeit pharmaceutical products has increased manifold since the outbreak of the crisis. The advertisement and sale of these items take place both on and offline.” 

Additionally, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) opened an enquiry on March 19 into counterfeit COVID-19‒related products, and has been collecting intelligence and information on the issue. OLAF and national customs administrations are working together to prevent the counterfeit goods from entering the European Union. 


Okan CanOÄŸulcan Çırpan and Muazzez Korutürk (Deris, Istanbul, Turkey)

Mr. Can is Chair of the ACC—Eastern Europe and Central Asia Subcommittee Chair

The Anti-Smuggling and Anti-Organised Crime Teams of Security General Directorate and Gendarmerie General Command affiliated with the Turkish Ministry of Internal Affairs recently conducted ex-officio operations in Turkey against unauthorized producers and sellers seeking to take advantage of the public’s rising needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Face masks and disinfectants are seen as the most important priority for the public health.

Turkish security forces uphold public health orders to fight against counterfeit, unauthorized, and unhealthy disinfectants, colognes, masks, and sanitary products produced and sold in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Turkish Regulatory and Criminal Provisions entitle regulatory and judicial bodies to take such actions. They conducted raids and seizures of counterfeit/harmful products during these operations. Raids conducted in cities across Turkey were reported as follows:

288 operations were organized in 65 provinces by the Ministry of Internal Affairs against the producers of counterfeit, unauthorized, and unhealthy disinfectants, colognes, masks, and sanitary products according to published news on April 9, 2020. During these operations, 462 people were arrested and actions have been taken against 192 of them based on the criminal provisions of the Turkish IP Code and/or the Turkish Criminal Law with regard to putting public health in danger and causing the price of sanitary products in the market to increase. 

As in the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the first topic on Turkey’s agenda for weeks. In view of these ongoing, critical days, it seems that security forces will continue organizing ex-officio raids.

If you would like to share targeting information with the authorities listed in this article or with local authorities, please contact Maysa Razavi at [email protected] 

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of items in the INTA Bulletin, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.

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