US, Europol Seize Domains In Cyber Monday Swoop

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Annual Cyber Monday roundup of fraudsters goes global

US and European law-enforcement authorities have seized 132 domain names in a swoop on websites allegedly selling counterfeit products on Cyber Monday, the frenetic shipping day that marks the run-up to Christmas.

The sting was coordinated by the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Centre (IPR Centre), led by the US’ Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). It marks the third year the IPR Centre has timed such an operation to coincide with “Cyber Monday”, the date following the US’ Thanksgiving holiday when shoppers traditionally continue their Christmas purchases from office connections, and the first time the operation has been extended outside the US.

Big sales

Cyber Monday is also the biggest online shopping day of the year in the UK, with British shoppers spending £19m per hour online on that date last year.

ICE worked with law enforcement agencies from Belgium, Denmark, France, Romania and the UK, as well as Europol, and seized 101 websites in the US, along with another 31 seized in Europe. ICE also made one arrest in the US.

“Our partnerships enable us to go after criminals who are duping unsuspecting shoppers all over the world,” said ICE Director John Morton in a statement. “This is not an American problem, it is a global one, and it is a fight we must win.”

ICE followed leads from various trademark holders and made undercover purchases of products including professional sports jerseys, DVD players, clothing, jewellery and luxury goods, the centre said, adding that counterfeiting such products has serious ramifications, including health and safety risks and harmful economic effects.

“Intellectual property rights theft is not a harmless and victimless crime,” said Europol director Rob Wainright in a statement.

Government custody

The domain names seized are currently in the custody of the governments involved, and visitors to those addresses will now be shown a banner educating them about copyright infringement issues.

ICE said 1,630 such domain names have been seized since June 2010, with 684 domain names having been forfeited to the US government and the seizure banner having received more than 110 million views.

Officials also identified PayPal accounts used by the websites involved and have targeted funds of more than $175,000 (£109,000) for seizure. PayPal and parent company eBay said they are working with ICE on the investigations.

The IPR Centre works through 21 member agencies and coordinates its activities with the US’ Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property to coordinate enforcement actions, and is one of the US government’s key weapons in combating counterfeiting and piracy, ICE said.

“Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Centre protects the public’s health and safety, the US economy and the war fighters,” ICE stated.

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