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UK police seize huge haul of prescription drugs destined for sale on illicit online pharmacies

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A joint operation between police in the UK city of Manchester and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has resulted in the seizure of pharmaceutical drugs estimated to be worth several million pounds.

Raids which took place at multiple locations across Manchester saw investigating officers discover genuine prescription drugs such as tramadol and diazepam, which detectives said had been illegally diverted from the UK pharmaceutical supply chain before being offered for sale online.

The precise number of pills seized during the raids and their total value has yet to be established.

Operation Pyarr was carried out with support from the UK’s Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), which is responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices are safe.

Detective Chief Inspector Charlotte Cadden of Greater Manchester Police’s Bury Borough said: “We have spent the past few months identifying where the public are able to get hold of these controlled drugs, and uncovering who is responsible.

“From our investigation, it is clear that this is a comprehensive operation, with genuine pharmaceuticals being unlawfully removed from the supply chain in the UK and then sold, illegally, online.

“While we have made arrests, we are continuing with our investigation and are committed to finding those who facilitate the supply of illegal substances in Greater Manchester.

“I’m asking for the public to continue to report anything suspicious to the police, and ensure that we can look after the public who are taken in by drugs that they believe are legal.”

In January 2015, the MHRA announced that it had seized prescription drugs worth an estimated £3 million ($3.95 million), including erectile dysfunction medication, slimming pills, sleeping tablets and antidepressants.

Unlike the genuine medication discovered in Manchester, the majority of these drugs had originated from India and China, where illicit factories pump out illegal copies of major pharmaceutical firms’ best-selling products.

Last month, Interpol and Europol announced they had arrested 400 people and seized potentially-harmful medication worth more than $51 million in a global crackdown on illegal online pharmacies.

Operation Pangea X resulted in the launch of 1,058 new investigations, the closure of 3,584 websites, and the removal of more than 3,000 online ads for illicit pharmaceuticals.

The global market for fake drugs was worth $431 billion in 2012, according to the World Health Organisation, which no longer estimates the size of the illicit trade due to the difficulty in providing an accurate assessment.

Organised criminal gangs use a number of methods to illegally obtain prescription drugs. Some groups divert genuine medicines from official supply chains, or get hold of out of date pharmaceuticals, which they repackage before selling on as being fit for use.

Others make fake pills themselves, or buy in bulk from illegal drug factories in countries such as China or India. Many of these either contain too much or too little of their purported active ingredient, or have been found to be made up of harmful substances such as antifreeze, paint and concrete.

Despite the launch of information campaigns in western countries designed to warn members of the public of the dangers of buying counterfeit medicines on the internet, many consumers still use illicit online pharmacies, in some cases to avoid the stigma of speaking with their doctor about potentially embarrassing conditions such as erectile dysfunction or depression.

 

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Crooked vendors exploiting flaw in eBay’s feedback system to con buyers into purchasing bogus and dangerous items

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Buyers on eBay are being duped into purchasing substandard and counterfeit products due to a flaw in the online auction platform’s seller feedback system, according to an investigation conducted by UK consumer group Which?

The watchdog found that dishonest vendors can take advantage of these flaws by linking positive reviews of genuine products manufactured by companies such as Apple and Samsung to fake and low-quality items.

Which? found that crooked sellers are able to link thousands of positive reviews to eBay listings they have nothing to do with.

The organisation discovered that real reviews can be associated with fake products that are potentially dangerous, such as counterfeit mobile phone chargers that can pose a fire risk.

Sellers are able to do this by using “product IDs” associated with genuine items when adding their products to eBay, subsequently benefitting from the positive reviews those items have attracted.

The system is intended to make the process of listing products on eBay quicker and easier by allowing sellers to pull information from similar items that have a linked product ID.

As part of its investigation, Which? purchased 20 bogus Apple and Samsung accessories such as chargers and USB cables that were supposed to be official and shared the same reviews as products manufactured by the two technology firms

Calling for online ecommerce platforms to be held accountable for flaws in their seller feedback systems that allow dishonest vendors to pull the wool over buyers’ eyes, Head of Home Products and Services at Which? Natalie Hitchins said: “Our investigation has uncovered yet another example of online reviews being manipulated to mislead people.

“eBay’s product review system is confusing for consumers and could even direct them towards counterfeit or dangerous products sold by unscrupulous sellers.

“Online reviews influence billions of pounds of consumer spending each year.

“The [UK Competition and Markets Authority] must now investigate how fake and misleading reviews are duping online shoppers, taking the strongest possible action against sites that fail to tackle the problem.”

Responding to the findings of Which?’s investigation eBay said in a statement: “The research does not fully consider that there are distinctions between product reviews (which provide buyers with a holistic review of the same product), and seller feedback (which can be used to see specific reviews of a seller’s performance and may reflect the item’s condition).”

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that US politicians had called on lawmakers to hold ecommerce companies such as eBay and Amazon to account if they fail to prevent third-party vendors selling counterfeit or substandard products on their platforms.

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Major ‘lover boy’ prostitution gang broken up by coalition of European law enforcement agencies

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A Romanian human trafficking and prostitution network that used the “lover boy” method to entrap young women before forcing them into sex work has been broken up a coalition of European law enforcement agencies.

The lover boy method, also known as the “Romeo pimp” method, involves young men seducing victims with the objective of coercing them into prostitution.

Lover boy traffickers groom their victims to believe they have entered into a serious romantic relationship before using emotional, psychological and sometimes physical abuse to intimidate them into working in the sex services industry.

Investigators from Spain, Romania, the Czech Republic and several other European nations were involved in the operation that resulted in the dismantling of the gang, which is said to have groomed and exploited at least 10 young women by forcing them to work as prostitutes.

The operation resulted in the arrest of 14 people in Romania and Spain, the safeguarding of 10 trafficking victims, and the confiscation of a number of items, including a quantity of cash, jewellery, expensive vehicles and several electronic devices.

In total, the agencies taking part in the effort raided 16 properties in the Czech Republic, Romania and Spain.

Having groomed their victims, Romanian members of the network would develop manipulative dependent relationships with the young women they targeted before forcing them into sex work.

Once under the traffickers’ control, victims would be abused and drugged before being sold onto other members of the network for as much as €6,000 ($6,632) each.

The women would then be moved between locations and countries on a regular basis as part of the gang’s efforts to avoid the attention of police.

Profits made by the network were laundered through the purchase of property, expensive jewellery and high-value cars.

Ongoing investigations into the network’s activities are focussed on the theory that it was working in cooperation with another gang.

Enquires have already resulted in the identification of more than 40 additional women who fell victim to the two criminal organisations.

In a statement, Europol said: “Europol facilitated the information exchange between the participating countries, provided coordination support and analysed operational information against Europol’s databases to give leads to investigators.

“Europol conducted a financial analysis based on the information provided which highlighted the extension of the criminal activity of the group and the presence and flow of illicit profits to other jurisdictions.”

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Taking cocaine will not cure people struck down with the coronavirus, French government warns public

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Authorities in France have been forced to inform the public that taking cocaine will not cure people infected with the coronavirus.

Taking to Twitter on Sunday, the French Ministry for Solidarity and Health told its followers that cocaine is not only ineffective when it comes to fighting the coronavirus, but is also a highly addictive drug that can cause serious harm to users’ health.

The government department was seeking to counter fake news circulating on social media that taking the drug could cure or prevent the virus, including doctored news stories that appeared to confirm the drug’s effectiveness at fighting the disease.

The ministry’s Twitter post included a link to a government information page that provided further guidance on disinformation circulating about the coronavirus outbreak.

As well as encouraging those worried about the coronavirus to start taking cocaine, online trolls have also suggested that bleach can also help fight the disease.

In a post on Twitter that has attracted many thousands of engagements, @Jordan_Sather_ told his followers: “Would you look at that. Not only is chlorine dioxide (aka ‘MMS’) an effective cancer cell killer, it can wipe out coronavirus too.

“No wonder YouTube has been censoring basically every single video where I discuss it over the last year.”

In August of 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about that dangers of consuming bleach, noting: “Drinking any… chlorine dioxide products can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and symptoms of severe dehydration.”

As well as warning about cocaine’s inability to fight the coronavirus, the French government has also told members of the public that spraying bleach or alcohol on their bodies will not neutralise viruses they have already been infected with.

Elsewhere, US Vodka maker Tito’s Homemade was last week forced to urge people not to make DIY hand sanitiser out of its products.

Responding to one of its customers who said they had done just that, the company said on Twitter: “Per the CDC [Centres for Disease Control and Prevention], hand sanitizer needs to contain at least 60% alcohol. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is 40% alcohol, and therefore does not meet the current recommendation of the CDC. Please see attached for more information.”

For its part, the World Health Organisation, which today officially categorised the coronavirus as a pandemic, has published a webpage dispelling misinformation about the disease, noting that the virus cannot be killed of avoided by taking a hot bath or using hand dryers.

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