Cyber Monday sting takes out 150 websites selling counterfeit goods

Cyber Monday shoppers looking to score NFL jerseys, DVDs or fancy handbags have a better chance of getting the genuine article, after federal enforcement agencies spent Black Friday taking control of 150 websites reputed to deal in counterfeit goods.

As part of the ongoing Operation in Our Sites, the Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized control of the sites’ domain names in the largest crackdown to date on online knockoffs, the department said in announcing the crackdown.

The domain name servers for the sites — the majority of them selling bogus NFL and other sports gear, along with some offering DVDs, UGG boots, Louis Vuitton bags and other goods — were switched to, a server run by ICE. Many of the sites were registered to people in China, the Register reported.

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Anyone trying to visit one of the sites instead gets a message bearing the seals of Justice,  the Intellectual Property Rights Center and Homeland Security Investigations stating, “This domain name has been seized by ICE – Homeland Security Investigations, pursuant to a seizure warrant issued by a United States District Court.”

TorrentFreak ran a list of about 130 of the domain names seized.

The Cyber Monday crackdown is becoming a tradition for ICE. Last year, it seized 82 domains in a similar move. ICE also staged a crackdown before the 2011 Super Bowl in February and at other times.

DOJ said this crackdown is the eighth phase of Operation in Our Sites. Undercover agents went online to buy products including professional sports jerseys, golf equipment, DVD sets, footwear, handbags and sunglasses that proved to be counterfeits of trademarked items, DOJ said. In most cases, the suppliers were located in other countries.

Since Operation in Our Sites was launched in June 2010, ICE’s name server has taken hold of 350 domains, 116 of which have been forfeited to the government, Justice said.

Just as Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, kicks off the holiday shopping season at stores, with midnight openings and bargains that can turn consumers into raging hoards, Cyber Monday is the unofficial start of online holiday buying, with retailers offering similar deals to attract shoppers.

Analysts have estimated that this year Cyber Monday could generate $1.2 billion in sales. But some of those sales could go to fraudsters posing as legitimate businesses on the Web, a practice Operation in Our Sites aims to prevent.

“For most, the holidays represent a season of goodwill and giving, but for these criminals, it’s the season to lure in unsuspecting holiday shoppers,” ICE Director John Morton said in Justice’s announcement. “More and more Americans are doing their holiday shopping online, and they may not realize that purchasing counterfeit goods results in American jobs lost, American business profits stolen and American consumers receiving substandard products.”

The crackdown has an impact, although some of the online operations just switch to a new domain name and continue operations, according to a report in Gawker.

And others have questioned the operation’s legality. The sites were seized without prior notification, which could raise questions about due process, while TechDirt has raised First Amendment questions.




About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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