In global op, feds help seize websites selling fake goods

In an operation involving 10 foreign law enforcement agencies, the Department of Homeland Security helped seize more than 700 websites selling counterfeit goods on Cyber Monday, the busiest online shopping day of the year.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is part of Homeland Security, said its agents worked with Europol, the European Union’s police coordinating body, and the customs agency of Hong Kong.

“It was good old-fashioned police work,” said Justin Cole, a spokesman for the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, a multi-agency task force in Washington.

The center’s Project Cyber Monday IV obtained court orders against 297 U.S.-based Web domains that had sold counterfeit goods to undercover Homeland Security agents. The goods ranged from electronics to sportswear to jewelry.

“Once we have evidence from the copyright holder that the goods are fraudulent, we can go and get a seizure warrant signed by a federal magistrate,” Mr. Cole said.

Mr. Cole said website owners have six months to appeal to the court before their domains are forfeited completely. In the meantime, the websites display a banner saying they have been seized by federal authorities.

The center’s partnership with Europol, dubbed Project Transatlantic III, ended with nine EU law enforcement agencies seizing 393 European-based Web domains.

Hong Kong customs agents coordinated the shutdown of 16 websites hosted there, enlisting the assistance of the sites’ Web providers to suspend their service.

“Each of the jurisdictions was different,” Mr. Cole said, explaining that some countries based their actions on administrative measures, some on criminal procedure and others on voluntary cooperation by Web-hosting companies.

“This operation … sends a signal to criminals that they should not feel safe anywhere,” said Rob Wainwright, director of Europol. “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.”

Many of the websites masquerade as legitimate e-commerce outlets while selling shoddy or even dangerous imitation goods, said John Sandweg, acting director of ICE.

“Counterfeiters take advantage of the holiday season and sell cheap fakes to unsuspecting consumers everywhere,” he said.

Since its launch three years ago, the government’s campaign against counterfeit goods, dubbed operation In Our Sites, has seized more than 2,500 websites caught selling counterfeit goods.

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About the Author
Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman

Shaun Waterman is an award-winning reporter for The Washington Times, covering foreign affairs, defense and cybersecurity. He was a senior editor and correspondent for United Press International for nearly a decade, and has covered the Department of Homeland Security since 2003. His reporting on the Sept. 11 Commission and the tortuous process by which some of its recommendations finally became ...

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