This year’s Cyber Monday, traditionally the start of the holiday online shopping season, marked the end of it for more than 700 websites involved in selling counterfeit merchandise – all seized in a joint operation between ICE (297), Europol (393) and Hong Kong Customs (16).
The operations, known as In Our Sites, Project Cyber Monday IV to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and as Project Transatlantic III to Europol were coordinated by the HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) in Washington, D.C. for ICE, and by Europol for the participating EU member states. The European states included Belgium, Denmark, France, Hungary, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom.
“Counterfeiters take advantage of the holiday season and sell cheap fakes to unsuspecting consumers everywhere”, said ICE Acting Director John Sandweg. “Consumers need to protect themselves, their families, and their personal financial information from the criminal networks operating these bogus sites.”
Europol’s director, Rob Wainwright, said: “This operation is another good example of how transatlantic law enforcement cooperation works. It sends a signal to criminals that they should not feel safe anywhere. Unfortunately the economic downturn has meant that disposable income has gone down, which may tempt more people to buy products for prices that are too good to be true. Consumers should realize that, by buying these products, they risk supporting organized crime.”
KSL.com notes that according to Andrew Munoz, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for Utah, “Within the past three to four years, counterfeit websites have had ties to drug cartels.”
The seized domain names are now in the custody of the various governments concerned. Visitors see a banner notifying them of the seizure and explaining the federal crime of willful copyright infringement. Investigators also found PayPal accounts used by the seized websites. A total in excess of $175,000 is being targeted for seizure by the US government.
eBay is cooperating. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the opportunity to work closely with HSI to shut down criminals targeting our customers and our brand just as the holiday season takes off”, said Tod Cohen, vice president and deputy general counsel of Government Relations for eBay Inc. “PayPal and eBay Inc. pride ourselves in going above and beyond in the fight against the illegal online trafficking of counterfeit goods by partnering with law enforcement and rights owners globally, and we hope that this is fair warning to criminals that the Internet is not a safe place to try and sell fake goods.”
According to Variety, “The products being sold include DVDs, headphones, sports jerseys, toys, shoes, electronic accessories and personal care products… This year’s seizures had a particular focus on variations of the NFL brand and team names. Among the names seized were nfl-go.com, redskins-online.com and nfl-web.com.”
After receiving leads from trademark holders, agents would make purchases from the suspect sites. If subsequent examination determined that the goods were counterfeit they would then obtain the necessary orders authorizing the domain seizure.