US, European agencies seize 132 domain names for selling counterfeit merchandise

The officials are also targeting over US$175,000 in proceeds received through PayPal accounts by the websites

U.S. and European agencies have seized 132 domain names that were allegedly used to sell counterfeit merchandise online.

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The operation on Monday was a joint effort by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), law enforcement agencies from Belgium, Denmark, France, Romania and the U.K., and the European Police Office (Europol).

It was planned to coincide with 'Cyber Monday,' the Monday after Thanksgiving when people in the U.S. are expected to continue their holiday shopping online from fast Internet connections in office. The websites were set up to dupe consumers into unknowingly buying counterfeit goods during the holiday shopping season, ICE said in a statement Monday.

U.S. officials seized 101 websites, and made one arrest, while the European side seized another 31.

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

Officials also identified PayPal accounts utilized by the allegedly infringing websites. Proceeds received through the identified PayPal accounts of over US$175,000 are currently being targeted for seizure by investigating HSI field offices. PayPal and parent eBay are working with the HSI on the operation, according to the statement.

U.S. Attorney's Offices in the Districts of Maryland, Colorado, New Jersey, Southern District of California, Central District of California, Western District of New York and the Western District of Texas issued the warrants for the seizures, ICE said.

Federal law enforcement officers are said to have made undercover purchases of a variety of products, including professional sports jerseys, DVD sets, clothing, jewelry and luxury goods from online retailers who were suspected of selling counterfeit products. If the copyright holders confirmed that the purchased products were counterfeit or otherwise illegal, seizure orders for the domain names of the websites were obtained from federal magistrate judges.

The seizure on Monday is part of the federal Operation In Our Sites program, targeting websites distributing counterfeit and pirated goods on the Internet. Since the program began in June 2010, 1,630 websites have been seized, ICE said. Of the 1,529 domain names seized previously, 684 have been forfeited to the U.S. government.

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