On March 23, the WCO released an Urgent Notice on counterfeit medical supplies, urging the general public to exercise caution when purchasing medical equipment. As criminals continue to exploit an increased demand for medical supplies due to COVID-19, Customs administrations are faced with the challenge of combating counterfeit goods.
At the beginning of the month, INTERPOL launched a week-long operation called Pangea XIII in collaboration with 90 different countries. The operation resulted in 121 arrests, and the seizure of unauthorized medications, counterfeit face masks, substandard hand sanitizer, and $14 million of potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals.
On March 12, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) intercepted a package containing counterfeit testing kits from the United Kingdom. Another incident occurred on March 19, when CBP detected a shipment of fake testing kits at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. CBP officials at the Texas border also seized over 300 boxes filled with name brand cleaning supplies that had been diluted or replaced with water. Later this month, British police charged a man with producing and selling counterfeit coronavirus treatment kits, and shipping them around the world, including to the United States.
Panic buying has resulted in shortages of items, providing an opportunity for counterfeiters and price gougers to profit. Key stakeholders must work to ensure the security of the supply chain, vetting food and medical products and performing due diligence to protect consumer safety. CBP is at the front lines of detecting and intercepting illicit goods and plays a significant role in the effort to protect consumers from counterfeit medications and medical supplies.