Hundreds of counterfeit websites shut down amid Cyber Monday madness

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sized more than 706 domain names selling counterfeit merchandise as millions of Americans prepared for the biggest online shopping day of the year.

The National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) teamed up with 10 foreign law enforcement agencies to seize 706 websites set up to fool potential customers into buying counterfeit products during the busy holiday shopping season.

Seizures took place right before Cyber Monday, which has become the highest-volume annual online shopping day in recent years.

“Working with our international partners on operations like this shows the true global impact of IP (intellectual property) crime,” ICE Acting Director John Sandweg said in a statement following the seizures.

“Counterfeiters take advantage of the holiday season and sell cheap fakes to unsuspecting consumers everywhere. Consumers need to protect themselves, their families, and their personal financial information from the criminal networks operating these bogus sites,” Sandweg said.

This is the forth year in a row ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations joined with international enforcement agencies like Europol and Hong Kong Customs to close 297 domestic domain names, 16 in Hong Kong, and 393 others worldwide in time for Cyber Monday.

“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,” Director of Europol Rob Wainwright said in a statement.

“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,” Wainwright said.

According to the IPR Center the market is flooded with counterfeit electronic accessories, cellphones, toys, sports jerseys, luxury items, shoes, personal items, etc. leading up to the fourth economic quarter — the highest all year.

Customers additionally put their financial security at risk when providing payment information to shady counterfeit manufacturers, which have no obligation to protect such information, and often abuse it.

In place of the websites are banners informing potential customers of the seizures, along with a description of willful copyright infringement. The domain names remain in the custody of the governments presiding over the various investigators.

The goods in question were purchased undercover and compared against real products by legitimate manufacturers to determine authenticity.

Operation In Our Sites — the name of the continuing joint investigation — has seized 2,550 total domain names since the program began in June 2010.

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