Federal authorities recently hit the Internet looking for suspiciously good deals. Officials were not scanning for holiday bargains, like masses of consumers, however. Rather, federal agents were probing the Web, intent on adding to a growing criminal collection of websites breaking copyright infringement laws.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials sought websites selling counterfeit products, knock-offs of designer and name-brand merchandise. The hunt for fake-goods sellers was successful. ICE agents shut down 150 websites that sold look-alike products to often unsuspecting consumers.
Consumers duped by false merchandise are lured by low prices to websites that appear to be selling authentic goods. The government says it is more than an embarrassment for fooled shoppers to purchase something from the counterfeit sites — it can be dangerous as well.
ICE is concerned that an increasing number of knock-off online sites are linked to organized crime. Profits from those sites are believed to fuel other criminal activities. Officials say the quality of the faux products, especially electronic items and medications, can even be harmful to public health and safety.
Online counterfeiters have been the subjects of federal criminal investigations since the summer of 2010. According to the criminal division of the U.S Department of Justice, 350 websites have been pulled from the Internet.
The bulk of the domain names seized in federal raids had U.S. registrations, although agents traced the majority to China. No charges were filed in the most recent raid.
The government has not completely shut down access to the counterfeit sites. Potential online buyers will see a warning posted in place of the homepage stating that “willful copyright infringement is a federal crime.”
The warning is expected to reach millions of people. Since the start of government’s online investigations and website seizures, 77 million users have clicked on sites shuttered by ICE.
The amount of money consumers lose by buying illegitimate merchandise is unmeasured, but federal officials believe the figure goes beyond millions of dollars.
Source: The Washington Post, “Feds seize 150 Internet domain names in crackdown of sellers of fake goods,” Nov. 29, 2011