An international strike force formed by 11 law enforcement agencies seized and shut down 706 websites on Cyber Monday that were accused of selling counterfeit merchandise. It’s the sting operation’s fourth year, showing that governments have made “Project Cyber Monday” as much of an annual tradition as retailers have Cyber Monday itself.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the websites were duping customers into unknowingly purchasing counterfeit goods on Cyber Monday, a day known for online retailers giving major discounts on their products to kick off the holiday shopping season. ICE seized 297 domain names while Europol seized 393 and Hong Kong Customs seized another 16.
ICE said these sites not only flood the market with fake products, they can also compromise the personal financial information of customers. The most popular fake items sold were headphones, sports jerseys, personal care products, shoes, toys, luxury goods, cell phones and electronic accessories.
“Working with our international partners on operations like this shows the true global impact of IP crime,” John Sandweg, the acting director of ICE, said in an ICE press release. "Counterfeiters take advantage of the holiday season and sell cheap fakes to unsuspecting consumers everywhere. Consumers need to protect themselves, their families, and their personal financial information from the criminal networks operating these bogus sites."
As usual, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The government agents involved in Project Cyber Monday made undercover purchases of the counterfeit items from the suspected websites. After the agencies confirmed that the goods were counterfeit with the trademark or copyright holders, the domain names were taken into custody.
The websites are replaced with the now-familiar banner ICE puts up on seized websites. In the four years that the international strike force has been running the sting operation, that banner has received 122 million page views from 2,550 seized websites.
Here are some tips for avoiding identity theft and fraud when shopping online this holiday season.