More than 100 domain names were seized in an international crackdown on websites that sell counterfeit merchandise, federal authorities said Monday, just in time for the biggest online shopping day of the year.
It was the third consecutive Cyber Monday that websites selling knockoff sports jerseys, DVDs, cologne and other goods were blocked from doing business. This year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations coordinated the 132-site effort with Europol and police in Belgium, Denmark, France, Romania and the United Kingdom.
"This is not an American problem, it is a global one, and it is a fight we must win," ICE Director John Morton said in a statement.
At a news conference in Buffalo, investigators displayed tables full of knockoff Buffalo Bills jerseys, cologne and baseball caps purportedly made by Buffalo-based New Era Cap Co., all of which they had ordered online from mostly legitimate-looking websites with addresses such as newerasonlineshop.com.
"Intellectual property theft is not a victimless crime," said James Spero, special agent-in-charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Buffalo.
Homeland Security field offices in Buffalo, New Jersey, California, Maryland, Colorado and Texas were among those that investigated. Agents worked with copyright holders to confirm that products purchased from the targeted websites were illegal.
"When IP rights are violated, American jobs are lost, business profits are stolen and, ultimately, consumers are cheated," Spero said.
Most of the counterfeit goods are produced in and shipped from China, authorities said.
Americans were expected to spend $1.5 billion on Cyber Monday, according to research firm comScore.
U.S. Attorney William Hochul, whose office is prosecuting the lone arrest made in the investigation, said consumers "particularly on days such as today, need to be aware that when they go online to make purchases, such purchases can come with risks."
The arrested person, Gary Hammer, was charged with trafficking in counterfeit goods, accused of producing and selling counterfeit Microsoft software on Craigslist. He is due in federal court Dec. 12 after pleading not guilty at an initial appearance last week.
Reached by phone Monday, Hammer, of suburban Cheektowaga, denied he'd done anything wrong and called the case "a big misunderstanding." He said he rebuilds and recycles computers and has occasionally sold what he assumed to be genuine software obtained in trades, given to him or discarded.
"I would never willingly defraud anyone. I would never do that," Hammer said. "I live by high standards."
Authorities offered tips for consumers to avoid counterfeit merchandise, advising against buying goods that seem to be priced too low or have been offered through a bulk emailing.
"A lot of these sites are made up to look like the actual thing but grammar's incorrect a lot of times and prices are well below what they should be," HSI special agent Nicholas Peruzzini said. "It's not tough to tell you're dealing with counterfeit sites."