Federal authorities in the United States and a host of European countries yesterday shut down132 web sites suspected of selling counterfeit merchandise online. Authorities are working with PayPal, the payments unit of eBay Inc., to seize funds in PayPal accounts that authorities say the sites used.
Consumers who try to visit those sites now see a banner with information about the seizure and copyright infringement. The international sting was coordinated by the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, which is part of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The center worked with the European Police Office (Europol), a European policing agency, and authorities in Belgium, Denmark, France, Romania and the United Kingdom, to shut down the sites. U.S. authorities seized and shut down 101 web sites and European authorities seized 31.
Four of the sites allegedly sold counterfeit New Era products. New Era is a U.S.-based sports cap and apparel manufacturer. New Era says it seized 970,000 fake New Era caps and apparel items worth more than $45 million last year. The company, working with U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, a Democrat from New York, also recently got Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba Group to remove 380 listings of counterfeit New Era goods marketed on Alibaba’s online marketplaces in China.
Authorities made undercover purchases to identify sites selling counterfeit goods. Once they received goods, such as DVD sets, jewelry and sports jerseys, they checked with the copyright holders to confirm they were fakes. Once confirmed, authorities got court orders to seize the sites. This is the third year in a row that authorities cracked down on counterfeit sellers on the Monday following Thanksgiving, also known as Cyber Monday and known to be a big day for online shopping.
“The manufacturing and selling of knock-off goods hurts businesses and people across a wide spectrum of our society,” says William J. Hochul Jr., a U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York. “Victims of these crimes include not only those who create intellectual property and the employees of legitimate businesses who turn the ideas into products. Consumers are also hurt by unknowingly obtaining inferior or potentially harmful products.”
Approximately one in five deal-focused online shoppers in the United States and Europe has unintentionally shopped a site selling counterfeit goods, according to a recent report from the Nielsen Co. and MarkMonitor, a vendor of brand protection tools. The report studied search terms and referral traffic to known rogue sites. It says that often when consumers shop for bargains counterfeit goods may not be easily distinguishable from legitimate goods sold at sale prices.