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ICE, international partners, seize 132 Web sites on Cyber Monday

In an operation timed to coincide with one of the busiest online shopping days of the year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and law enforcement agencies from across Europe, and the European Police Office (Europol) seized 132 domain names, accusing the sites of selling counterfeit merchandise online to unsuspecting consumers.

The 132 domain names seized are part of Project Cyber Monday 3 and Project Transatlantic, said ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) on Nov. 26. Law enforcement said the Web sites were set up to fool customers into unwittingly buying counterfeit goods during their holiday shopping. The operation was coordinated by the ICE HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) in Washington, D.C.

The operation marks the third year the IPR Center has targeted websites selling counterfeit products online in conjunction with Cyber Monday. An iteration of Operation In Our Sites (IOS), Cyber Monday 3 seized 101 websites and yielded one arrest, said ICE. Additionally, recognizing the global nature of Internet crime, the IPR Center partnered with Europol this year, who, through its member countries, executed coordinated seizures of foreign-based top-level domains like .eu, .be, .dk, .fr, .ro and .uk. That part of the effort, titled Project Transatlantic, resulted in 31 domain name seizures, said the agency.

The IPR Center and Europol, said ICE, received leads from various trademark holders regarding the infringing Web sites. The leads were disseminated to eight investigating HSI field offices in Baltimore, Buffalo, Denver, El Paso, Newark, San Antonio, San Diego, and Ventura, CA and to the investigating Europol member countries including Belgium, Denmark, France, Romania and the United Kingdom.

The domain names seized are now in the custody of the governments involved in these operations, said ICE. Visitors that type the domain names into their browsers will now find a banner that notifies them of the seizure, said the agency.

In addition to the domain name seizures, officials identified PayPal accounts that were used by the infringing websites. Proceeds received through the identified PayPal accounts, in excess of $175,000, are currently being targeted for seizure by the investigating HSI field offices, said ICE.

According to ICE, during the operation, federal law enforcement officers made undercover buys of a host of products; including professional sports jerseys, DVD sets, and a variety of clothing, jewelry and luxury goods from online retailers who were suspected of selling counterfeit products. If the copyright holders confirmed the purchased products were counterfeit or otherwise illegal, seizure orders for the domain names of the websites that sold these goods were obtained from federal magistrate judges, it said.

The 101 domain names seized under Project Cyber Monday 3 bring the total number of IOS domain names seized to 1,630 since the operation began in June 2010, said ICE. Since that time, the seizure banner has received more than 110 million individual views, it added.

Of the 1,529 previous domain names seized, ICE said 684 have now been forfeited to the U.S. government.


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