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US & EU celebrate 'Cyber Monday' by seizing 132 websites

Counterfeit-goods sting nets transatlantic miscreants

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Law-enforcement authorities in the US and the European Union celebrated "Cyber Monday" – the internet's shopping-frenzy equivalent to brick-and-mortar stores' Black Friday – by shuttering 132 websites for selling counterfeit merchandise.

"These websites were stealing from legitimate websites and copyright holders and the people who make these products," US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director John Morton told a conference call announcing the busts, reports AFP.

The operation was coordinated by the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), an arm of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) directorate, in cooperation with lawmen – and, presumably, law-women – from Belgium, Denmark, France, Romania, the UK, and the European Police Office (Europol).

According to Morton, the offending sites sold items branded as Nike apparel, Ergobaby infant carriers, and pricey Hermes kit, "all of it fake, all of it substandard quality."

In addition to those three faked product lines, officials said that counterfiet goods were also seized from vendors who claimed their sketchy goods were from McAfee, Symantec, Armani, Guess, Burberry, Chanel, Gucci, Lacoste, Dior, Tommy Hilfiger, Versace, YSL, and Michael Kors.

The busts were made after undercover agents made purchases of a broad range of goods, then checked their purchases with the copyright holders to determine whether the items were legit. If not, the hammer came down on the bad guys' websites.

The US part of the crackdown, dubbed Cyber Monday 3, seized 101 websites and made one arrest. The EU effort, Project Transatlantic, netted an additional 31 websites, including those with top-level domain names of .eu, .be, .dk, .fr, .ro and .uk.

"This operation is a great example of the tremendous cooperation between ICE and our international partners at the IPR Center," said Morton in a statement. "Our partnerships enable us to go after criminals who are duping unsuspecting shoppers all over the world. This is not an American problem, it is a global one and it is a fight we must win."

Officials also identified PayPal accounts being used by the counterfeit-kit websites – much to the delight of PayPal. "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 eBay lawyer Tod Cohen.

"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," Cohen said, "and we hope that this is fair warning to criminals that the Internet is not a safe place to try and sell fake goods."

Protecting consumers was but one reason for the joint operation. ICE man Morton was candid when he explained that there were other motivations, as well. "It's a huge problem not only for US industry," he said, "but for legitimate industries in Europe and Asia and elsewhere. Just think of all the jobs that are lost, think of all the tax revenues that are lost."

In these days of sky-high government deficits, lost tax revenue is not to be tolerated. ®

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