High Streets Initiative · 4 May 2018

Operation Aphrodite: Thousands of fake goods seized from online shops

Law enforcement authorities from nine EU countries, have seized more than 20 000 packages and closed more than 1000 accounts.

Several European countries co-operated in Operation Aphrodite, Europe’s “largest ever” police investigation against illegal online marketplaces which sold counterfeit goods and pirated content.

Over 20,000 packages were seized and the police looked at more than 250 sellers, with 100 suspects being prosecuted.

The crackdown involves Europol and the Italian Guardia di Finanza (GdF), alongside nine EU countries.

Operation Aphrodite, run with the cooperation of Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The illegal shops advertised their goods via social media, however, Europol would not say which ones were utilised.

Transactions were not usually completed via social media, according to Europol. Instead, messenger apps or by telephone under different names were often used by the buyers and sellers.

Couriers then deliver the parcels and payment is typically made through PayPal or prepaid cards.

Europol said: “The internet continues to be a major facilitator of intellectual property crime as it utilises new and emerging platforms, such as social media, that have made it easier to post and share offerings for counterfeit goods and pirated content to an expanding audience.”

While numerous investigations are still ongoing, Europol will inspect the volume of the issue, congregate evidence and monitor social media platforms.

“The exponential growth of internet platforms has also affected the development of online marketplaces or e-stores that can be considered alternative channels to retailing. These new markets also take advantage of social channels to perpetrate illicit activities.”

The bulk of the goods consisted of sportswear, medicines, cosmetics, smartphones and designer clothes. Also found were, jewellery, sunglasses, watches and illegal IPTV set-top-boxes.

Following a methodical exploration of the web, the target accounts of the social networks are detected. Such searches are carried out on normal search engines, on ad portals, and on social media, also using web-crawlers, Europol said.

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Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

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