10 000 shops selling anything you could imagine – this was the dimension of the illegal online marketplace selling counterfeit goods and pirated content shut down by the largest European law enforcement operation ever.
Joint investigations by Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition (IPC³), the Italian Guardia di Finanza and law enforcement authorities from nine EU Member States, have seized more than 20 000 packages and closed over 1 000 accounts. On offer were sports articles, medicines, mobile phones, bags, jewellery, sunglasses, clothing, watches, perfumes and cosmetics, illegal IPTV set-top-boxes and online piracy over different social media platforms.
Operation Aphrodite, run with the cooperation of Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom, led the preliminary investigation of more than 250 people selling counterfeit goods and pirated content, prosecuting more than 100 suspects, while numerous investigations are still ongoing.
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. Europol will examine the scale of the problem, gather evidence and monitor social media and sales 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.
Selling on social
Vendors advertise the counterfeit goods through posts showing the product and price. Then, the details of the transaction are defined through other communication channels (messaging applications or by telephone under different names). Couriers deliver the packages and payment is usually made via prepaid cards or Paypal.
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.
Consumers need to be informed of the use of social media as these platforms are used by criminal networks.