Close to five million counterfeit toys have been seized by police and customs authorities worldwide in a crackdown organised by Europol over the recent festive season.
Operation LUDUS, conducted with the support of OLAF and the EUIPO carried out nearly 5,000 inspections across 24 countries between October 19th 2020 and January 31st 2021 in order to detect the illegal shipment and storage of fake toys.
The efforts brought in a haul of over €16 million worth of counterfeit toys.
To date, the operation has seen the arrest of 11 fraudsters, with investigations ongoing in a number of countries to dismantle the criminal networks. Operation LUDUS has been recognised as the first organised on such a scale to target the sale of counterfeit toys.
Countries participating in the 4,768 inspections included Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the UK, and the US.
Toy cars, board games, and dolls from popular children’s TV shows were among the most seized items. The confiscated pieces have been described as almost ‘exact replicas of the real products,’ and some were ‘extremely hard to distinguish.’
Europol has stated however that in almost all cases, the seized toys posed a ‘serious health risk for children.’ The counterfeit products had not been subjected to the rigorous safety tests required by law and had no warnings or advice on the packaging.
Around 2,800 dolls were seized in Italy and 8,000 toy cars were seized in Belgium which posed a choking hazard, while more than 5,000 plastic toys seized in Spain contained a toxic chemical that could damage children’s health.
Several other electronic devices were confiscated across other countries that exceeded the legal decibel limits for toys which could permanently damage a child’s hearing.
Europol’s executive director, Catherine de Bolle, said: “This operation shows yet again that criminals will take advantage of any and every opportunity open to them to make a profit.
“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.”