WASHINGTON – Several thousand copyright-infringing website domain names and third-party marketplace links selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals, automotive parts and other fake items to unsuspecting consumers have been criminally and administratively seized and removed in an effort that combines the resources of global law-enforcement agencies and industry.
There were roughly 50,385 illegal domain names seized and 320,701 e-commerce / social media links removed over the past year as part of Operation In Our Sites / Project Transatlantic VIII, a joint initiative between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Europol, Interpol and members of industry to crackdown on individuals using the Internet to distribute counterfeit goods and other copyright-protected material that threaten the health and safety of shoppers. The initiative was coordinated and supported by the ICE-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center).
The global enforcement action highlighted the effective collaboration between law enforcement authorities from 27 countries, anti-counterfeiting associations and industry representatives, who made substantial contributions to the success of this operation. Brand owners and industry organizations representing name-brand footwear and apparel, cosmetics and personal care products, active wear and sporting and entertainment associations participated in this effort, and were solely responsible for targeting links on popular e-commerce sites and social media platforms selling counterfeit goods.
“Targeting copyright-infringing websites that market dangerous counterfeit goods to consumers and engage in other forms of intellectual property theft will continue to be a priority for law enforcement,” said acting IPR Center Director Nick Annan. “Strengthening our collaboration with police authorities around the world and leaders of industry will reinforce the crackdown on IP crimes, and demonstrate that there is no safe haven for criminals committing these illicit activities.”
“This excellent result shows how important and effective cooperation between law enforcement authorities and private-sector partners is, and how vital it is if we are to ultimately make the internet a safer place for consumers,” said Europol Executive Director Rob Wainwright. “Through its Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition, Europol will continue to work closely with its partners to strengthen the fight against intellectual property crime online and offline.’’
This year, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations arrested two Mexican nationals for allegedly operating a counterfeit airbag business out of their residence in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dina Gonzalez-Marquez and Emilio Gonzalez-Marquez were charged with conspiring to traffic in counterfeit goods and two counts of trafficking in counterfeit goods. The two Mexican nationals facilitated the listing and selling of counterfeit airbag modules and airbag covers through their online website airbagsplace.com, and conducted in person sales of the counterfeit goods.
As part of HSI’s enforcement actions the website domain name was seized and the merchant account used to facilitate the illegal activity was shut down. If convicted on the charges in the indictment, Dina Gonzalez-Marquez and Emilio Gonzalez-Marquez each face a statutory maximum penalty of ten years in prison and a maximum fine of $2 million.
Each year, the market is flooded with counterfeit products being sold at stores, on street corners and online. Additionally, criminals have taken advantage of the internet to deceive, sell and ship fake products directly to unsuspecting consumers. The most popular counterfeit products seized each year include watches, jewelry, handbags, wallets, wearing apparel/accessories, consumer electronics/parts, pharmaceuticals and personal care products.
The IPR Center – formally codified in the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 – is one of the U.S. government’s key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. The center uses the expertise of its 23 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions, and conduct investigations related to IP theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public’s health and safety, the U.S. economy and the warfighters.