Last March, a large-scale international cooperation gathered customs experts from 22 EU member states, OLAF, and Europol. A project that was set up in a larger program of fighting against online trafficking.
Code-named Postbox II, this operation rested on the control of packages that transit through postal services, looking for prohibited products. In direct line of sight of customs authorities, counterfeit, drugs, and endangered wildlife or flora trade, as detailed by Alexander De Croo, the Belgium Finance Minister: “The struggle against the trade of counterfeits, drugs, and endangered wildlife and flora constitutes a priority for Belgium customs. To conduct this fight efficiently, we must collaborate. The results of this action already show the added value of this European cooperation”.
In order to conduct the announced 2,230 seizures (505 packages were seized in Belgium, 460 in Italy, and 304 in Ireland), an international experts cyber patrol was set up. This patrol, a first at the European scale, allowed to target criminals operating on the surface web as much well as those on the deep web.
Facing the results of this operation, several teachings can be drawn from it. First of all, it underlined the importance of Asian e-commerce platforms regarding the sale of counterfeit products. It also put the emphasis on the role of the deep web in drugs sales, as this technology guarantees the anonymity of both buyers and sellers.
Although not mentioned in relation to operation Postbox II, social networks also constitute an important channel to sale illicit products online.
Postal services as links in the chain of international illicit trade
In 2016, the number of postal packages sent within domestic markets and internationally went up to 216 billion, a record. Therefore, this transportation mode became a crucial element of world trade, but also of illicit trade. “If we consider the number of seizures conducted, postal shipments of counterfeits are on the rise, which makes it a major problem for the authorities. Small packages used by counterfeiters mainly use postal shipment or express freight”, as precised by the OECD in a recent report.
To better understand the range of the phenomenon, the most recent world illicit trade estimates are essential. According to the EUIPO and OECD, the trade of pirated and counterfeited products reached 3.3% of international exchanges in 2016. A volume so important that it becomes impossible for customs services to control the whole flow.
Photo credit: OLAF