A joint operation of Federal agencies - including the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), the Department of Justice and the FBI - has resulted in the sezure of 150 websites.
The seizures were part of the eighth phase of "Operation In Our Sites" and were conducted on Cyber Monday, the day marking the traditional rush for online holiday consumer deals.
The websites targeted in the operation are believed to be selling and/or distributing counterfeit merchandise:
"During this operation, federal law enforcement agents made undercover purchases of a host of products, including professional sports jerseys, golf equipment, DVD sets, footwear, handbags and sunglasses, representing a variety of trademarks from online retailers who were suspected of selling counterfeit products," an ICE press release stated.
"In most cases, the goods were shipped directly into the United States from suppliers in other countries. If the trademark holders confirmed that the purchased products were counterfeit or otherwise illegal, seizure orders for the domain names of the websites that sold the goods were obtained from federal magistrate judges," the ICE press release continued.
The holiday season presents cyber criminals with a prime opportunity to conduct illegal operations as consumers scour the internet for deals on everything from electronics to designer label goods.
"For most, the holidays represent a season of good will and giving, but for these criminals, it's the season to lure in unsuspecting holiday shoppers," said ICE Director John Morton.
Some analysts have estimated that Cyber Monday sales exceeded the Black Friday purchasing rush by as much as 33%, with an annual growth of more than 2.5% over last year - and the trend is expected to continue, making ecommerce fraud an attractive proposition for criminal syndicates.
"More and more Americans are doing their holiday shopping online, and they may not realize that purchasing counterfeit goods results in American jobs lost, American business profits stolen and American consumers receiving substandard products. And the ramifications can be even greater because the illicit profits made from these types of illegal ventures often fuel other kinds of organized crime," Morton explained.
Previous "Operation In Our Sites" website seizures include:
- First phase: 10 domain names
- Second phase: 82 domain names
- Third phase: 10 domain names
- Fourth phase: 18 domain names
- Fifth phase: 5 domain names
- Sixth phase: 17 domain names
- Seventh phase: 58 domain names
In the end, preventing the sale of counterfeit goods and improving overall ecommerce security is essential to a healthy economic recovery, and officials intend to maintain a focus on shutting down fraudulent and criminal operations.
"Through this operation we are aggressively targeting those who are selling counterfeit goods for their own personal gain while costing our economy much-needed revenue and jobs. Intellectual property crimes harm businesses and consumers, alike, threatening economic opportunity and financial stability, and today we have sent a clear message that the Department will remain ever vigilant in protecting the public's economic welfare and public safety through robust intellectual property enforcement," said Attorney General Eric Holder.