Feds take down over 700 fake websites for Cyber Monday

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SALT LAKE CITY — Cyber Monday is in full swing as millions take to the web looking for a great deal. But Homeland Security agents are warning consumers to make sure you're on the company's actual website.

Homeland Security agents in Salt Lake City helped shut down more than 700 domains that were hawking counterfeit products Monday.

The domain names were part of scams to lure customers into buying counterfeit products during the holiday shopping surge.

"They prey on those around this time of year where people are actually looking for a good deal to buy," said Homeland Security agent Jonathan Lines.

The U.S. Department Homeland Security joined with 10 law enforcement organizations worldwide in joint operations to locate and seize the domains in conjunction with Cyber Monday.

The National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center arranged the seizures, with officers in the United States confiscating 297 domain names. They worked with Europol countries in capturing 393 sites. Hong Kong Customs seized 16.

Agents worked using tips as leads and used agencies with expertise to help locate the sites, said Andrew Munoz, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for Utah.

Consumers who purchase counterfeit products not only buy something of poor quality, but they may also put themselves at risk for identity fraud and possible health risks if the product contains unregulated levels of heavy metals, Munoz said.

Within the past three to four years, counterfeit websites have had ties to drug cartels. Munoz encouraged customers to "think twice" before shopping online.

"We always recommend going to known retailers," he said.

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The counterfeit websites have become more sophisticated in recent years, Munoz said, and will often be included among Google search results.

"Really it comes down to buyer beware," he said.

A few things can tip a customer off that a website is fake, Munoz said. They are often little things, such as a poorly created website, spelling and grammar errors and poor-quality photos.

He also said the fraudulent websites will often have domain names that are difficult to remember, offer deals that are "too good to be true" or have customer service links to Yahoo! or Gmail accounts.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a list of common counterfeit items, including shoes, headphones and other electronics and toys.

"It runs the gamut," Lines said. "If it can be counterfeited, somebody will certainly do so and then peddle that online."

Federal officers bought some of the items undercover. When an item was identified as being counterfeit, they were able to secure orders to seize the domain selling the product, Munoz said.

Governments of the seized domains now have charge of the domains, according to Homeland Security. Those who visit the captured sites will be greeted by a banner that tells of the seizure and gives information on copyright violations.

If you're shopping on this Cyber Monday, how can you tell if you're on site selling counterfeit items? Today.com gave a few tips to help:

  • Check the manufacture's website and do a side-by-side comparison with the product on the site you're considering buying from.
  • The biggest sign of a fraudulent site is dramatic discounts. If you want a product that is typically $200 and it's selling for $50, you should be skeptical.
  • Check the Frequently Asked Questions part of the website as some will use the term "replica".
  • Beware of "CyberSquatting" — where a site will use the brand name in the URL without permission.
  • Typos in the domain name are also a pretty good giveaway that the site is not reputable. Contributing: Sandra Yi


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