US, Europe shut down bogus online retailers
Screen shot: Operation In Our Sites nabbed 132 websites selling counterfeit goods on Cyber Monday. Photo: Supplied
A joint operation between the US government and European police targeting fraudulent shopping websites may soon extend its reach to Australia.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency said its Project Transatlantic operation seized 132 fraudulent websites on "Cyber Monday" – the Monday following Thanksgiving in the US, when marketing companies persuade people to shop online.
The sites were taking advantage of heightened online activity associated with the traditional holiday shopping season in the US to sell goods purporting to be from high-end brands. The agency is now planning to make the anti-fraud campaign global.
The joint operation, timed to shut down counterfeiters and pirate sites ahead of Cyber Monday, seized domain names registered in the US, Belgium, Denmark, France, Romania and the UK.
This year's online sales event, held after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is estimated to have generated at least $US1.62 billion, highlighting the opportunity for seasonal shoppers to be duped online by criminals.
US government officials warned consumers around the world about the dangers of shopping online from bogus sites, especially ahead of Christmas.
“Organised criminals are using the internet and the holiday shopping season to defraud consumers on a grand scale,” said John Morton, director of immigration and customs enforcement, a division of the US Department of Homeland Security.
“A wide variety of consumer goods are presented on bogus websites as being genuine, when in fact they are counterfeits and illegally produced.”
Morton said web domains seized in the operation were selling counterfeit versions of anything from baseball caps, sportswear, and jewellery to sunglasses, purses and baby carriers.
“Were these legitimate baby carriers? No,” said Morton. “They were 100 per cent knockoffs having nothing to do with ... thoughtful design. Were they safe? Absolutely not.
"This is a global problem. It affects everyone. When IP rights are violated, jobs are lost, businesses are stolen, and ultimately consumers are cheated. Remember, counterfeiters care about making money and only about making money.”
Asked by ITPro about similar joint operations in Australia and Asia, Morton said Australia was a likely candidate for the operation's expansion plans.
“The short answer is yes,” Morton said. “Ultimately, we'd like to do this kind of co-ordinated action with our major enforcement partners around the world. It's just good law enforcement. Counterfeiting and piracy isn't a United States problem. Literally, anything that you can imagine these days is being counterfeited and sold.
“Shoppers all over the world are continuing to make purchases online in increasing numbers. That's a good thing. The internet is a good thing. Sales over the internet are a good thing. But with an increase in online shopping comes an increase, sadly, in online predators [and] organised criminals looking to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers to make a quick buck.”
Visitors to sites seized in the Cyber Monday action, part of a wider operation called “In Our Sites”, were met with a banner stating: “This domain name has been seized by ICE-Homeland Security Investigations, pursuant to a seizure warrant issued by a United States District Court…”
Said Morton: “It's a very serious problem."