WASHINGTON — The U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, in a joint operation, seized 82 Web site domains for selling fake luxury goods, the agencies said Monday.
The sites sold merchandise that included counterfeit Louis Vuitton and Coach handbags and fake Rolex watches at a fraction of the price of the real articles. Undercover agents paid an average of 15 percent of the suggested manufacturer’s price on goods purchased during the investigation, said John Morton, director of Homeland Security’s Immigration & Customs Enforcement.
The sites, bearing names like “RealTimberland.com” and “LouisVuittonOutlet,” sold a wide range of fake trademarks including Burberry, Uggs, Nike, Oakley and Tag Heuer.
The seized domain sites were registered in the U.S., but most operated from bases in China, Morton said. They all claimed to be selling real products.
“These Internet sites were scams pure and simple, advertising the genuine, selling the fraudulent,” Morton said.
ICE had no official estimates of the volume of business that was trafficked through the sites prior to the seizures, but it was clear they were doing a “thriving business,” he said.
No arrests were made during the enforcement effort, but anyone attempting to access one of the seized Web sites using its domain name will now be redirected to a banner notifying them the site was seized by federal authorities, said Attorney General Eric Holder.
“With today’s seizures, we are disrupting the sale of thousands of counterfeit items,” Holder said. “As the holiday shopping season gets under way, we are also reminding consumers to exercise caution when looking for deals and discounts online. To put it simply: if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a leading co-sponsor of a bill that would crack down on counterfeit merchandise sold online by “rogue Web sites,” praised the administration’s seizure of the domain names, saying it is similar to legislation his committee passed this month.
The bill, which will likely not advance this year, would give the Justice Department an expedited process to clamp down on Web sites dedicated to selling infringing goods and services and counterfeits, give authority to Justice officials to file civil action against domain names repeatedly selling counterfeits or providing online piracy and go after foreign site operators.
“We can no longer sit on the sidelines while American intellectual property is stolen and sold online using our own infrastructure,” Leahy said.