By Anand Vasu
Nearly five million counterfeit toys were seized by Europol as a result of operation LUDUS, which ran from Oct. 19 2020 to Jan. 31 2021, the holiday season and the period in which toy sales are traditionally highest due to gifting demand.
More than 4,700 inspections were carried out across 24 countries resulting in seizures worth $19m. Eleven fraudsters were arrested and investigations are ongoing.
This was the largest such operation put together to to dismantle the networks that were putting child safety at risk, Europol said in a release.
After the seizure of the counterfeit toys, 44,127 samples were tested in laboratories and 125 judicial cases were opened.
Toy cars, board games and figurines of characters from popular television shows were the most popular items.
While the counterfeit toys seized were very close to the originals they imitated, the risk to children was real because these toys had not been subjected to the kind of tests required to ensure that no harmful materials were used in their production.
Additionally, the packaging of these toys did not come with the warnings that could alert parents to potential risks.
More than 2,800 dolls seized in Italy and 8,000 toy cars confiscated in Belgium posed choking hazards. In Spain some 5,000 plastic toys contained a chemical that could damage the health of children who played with them.
There were also toys seized in other countries that produced decibel levels of sound that could damage the hearing of children.
In Romania, 1175 toys were seized because they failed to include age appropriateness labels, instructions for use or a list of materials they contained.
Europol urged customers buying toys to be wary of items that were unusually cheap or deals that sounded too good to be true as the risk of damaging the health of children who played with them far outweighed any savings that might be made.
“This operation shows yet again that criminals will take advantage of any and every opportunity open to them to make a profit,” said Catherine de Bolle, Europol’s Executive Director. “During the festive period, criminals cash in on the surge in demand of certain toys by selling dangerous toys to unsuspecting shoppers. Thanks to Operation LUDUS, we have successfully taken out of circulation millions of toys which were not only unsafe but ripped off legitimate brands.”
Europol brought all the involved countries around one table and coordinated the operational activities across the globe.
In addition, the agency developed risk indicators which were shared with law enforcement and customs authorities to help them prioritize checks.
During the actual operation, Europol provided a platform for real-time information sharing and cross-checking of intelligence, creating a communication network involving both police and custom authorities.
In addition to the United States, virtually every European country participated in the exercise. Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom, were all part of the operation.