WASHINGTON — Federal authorities in the U.S. said Monday they partnered with European counterparts for the first time to take down 132 counterfeit Web sites that were illegally selling thousands of fake products, including apparel, jewelry and other luxury goods.
Dubbed “Project Cyber Monday 3” in the U.S. and “Project Transatlantic” in Europe, the effort led to the seizure of 101 domain names in the U.S. and 31 in Europe, according to John Morton, director of U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement.
Morton said the Web sites sold products from 41 trademark holders, including such fashion and luxury brands as Nike, Reebok, Tommy Hilfiger, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Chanel, Burberry, Hermès, Dior, Miu Miu, Chloé, Tod’s, Fendi, Yves Saint Laurent, Cartier, Christian Louboutin and Lacoste.
“The purpose of our efforts is to confront consumer fraud online,” Morton said on a conference call with reporters. “Organized criminals are using the Internet and the holiday shopping season to defraud consumers on a grand scale.”
Morton noted it was the third time U.S. officials have gone after online counterfeiters on Cyber Monday.
“Recognizing that Cyber Monday is the busiest day for online purchases in the U.S., we conducted specific operations around this day to bring more awareness to the public about the potential dangers of shopping online,” he said. “With an increase in online shopping comes an increase in online predators; online organized criminals are looking to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers to make a quick buck.”
Officials also identified $175,000 in proceeds from PayPal accounts utilized by the counterfeit operators and which are being targeted for seizure by U.S. officials.
Tod Cohen, vice president and deputy general counsel of government relations for eBay Inc., said the online auction company worked with U.S. officials to take the infringing sites down.
“PayPal and eBay Inc. pride ourselves in going above and beyond in the fight against the illegal online trafficking of counterfeit goods by partnering with law enforcement and rights owners globally, and we hope that this is fair warning to criminals that the Internet is not a safe place to try and sell fake goods,” Cohen said.
Morton said U.S. authorities went a step further this year in their crackdown on online counterfeiting and reached across the Atlantic to work with European authorities.
“We are organizing transnational law enforcement to defeat transnational criminal organizations,” he said. “In short, a united front against a common foe.”
ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center spearheaded a coordinated effort with Europol and law enforcement agencies from Belgium, Denmark, France, Romania and the U.K.
“The Belgian federal police obtained warrants to seize 12 .eu names and one .be domain name, and the City of London police redirected the names of another 18 counterfeit Web sites,” Morton said. “Domain names such as hermesborse.eu and nikeavalon.eu were selling everything from counterfeit Hermès purses to Christian Louboutin shoes and various Nike apparel, all of it fake and all of it substandard quality.”
The operation was part of a larger initiative in the U.S. known as “Operation in Our Sites” that was launched in June 2010. The seizures of the 101 domain names in the U.S. brings the total to 1,630 since the operation began.