Holiday Cyber-Shopping: Deals That Are Too Good To Be True

By Erik Barnett

Throughout the holiday shopping season, consumers hunt for good bargains. Unfortunately, transnational criminal organizations are happy to offer opportunities through the sale of counterfeit goods, often sold through genuine-looking websites.

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U.S. law enforcement teamed up with Europol and 18 countries to target the sale of counterfeit goods over the internet. Photo: Europol

Organized crime groups have long been involved in the sale of counterfeit goods, which is very often tied to other criminal activity such as human trafficking, health and safety violations, and tax evasion. Over the last several years, counterfeit luxury goods, apparel, DVDs, and other fake items are increasingly sold through websites that mimic the sites of the manufacturers.

But law enforcement is fighting back to protect consumers while combatting transnational organized crime. Timed with recognition of “Cyber Monday,” U.S. law enforcement teamed up with Europol and 18 countries to target the sale of counterfeit goods through internet sites as part of Operation In Our Sites – Transatlantic V. Over the past three months, 28 law enforcement and customs agencies worked together to seize domain names of almost 300 websites selling counterfeit goods.

Led by U.S. ICE Homeland Security Investigations and Europol, the countries of Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Colombia, Croatia, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain and the United Kingdom joined in this year’s effort. The 292 domain names seized under Operation In Our Sites V brings the total number of domain names seized to 1829 since the project began with only five countries in November 2012.

In addition to the efforts of law enforcement, consumers can protect themselves by exercising their common sense. Shop, when possible, on authorized retail internet sites. Look for spelling errors in the text on the site itself or other signs the site may not be authentic. Some domain names may contain the name of the actual brand, followed by words such as “bargain,” “outlet,” or “cheap.” A good rule to remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, American companies lose billions of dollars each year because of the illegal sale of counterfeit products that are trademarked and pirated goods that are copyrighted. The impact is often most felt by American workers, whose salaries, pensions and health insurance premiums are funded by the legitimate sale of genuine, trademarked and copyrighted articles.

While some people might buy a counterfeit handbag or watch under the mistaken belief it really doesn’t “hurt” anyone, there is a tremendous loss to companies and their workers through the sale of counterfeit and pirated goods. When a pirated movie is watched as opposed to buying a genuine DVD, it isn’t whether Angelina Jolie earns another million dollars, but whether the worker on the movie set holding the mike boom has a fully-funded pension or his kids are covered by health insurance.

Erik Barnett is the Attaché for ICE Homeland Security Investigations at the U.S. Mission to the European Union

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