Law enforcement organizations have taken over more than 20,500 website domains following a coordinated international crackdown on counterfeit operations.
The domain names were associated with websites selling counterfeit products illegally including luxury products, electronics, sportswear and pharmaceuticals. The sites were also involved in online piracy on social networks and e-commerce platforms.
Interpol oversaw the joint operation in coordination with the Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition from Europol.
The United States National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (NIPRCC), Department of Justice (DOJ), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and authorities from 27 E.U. states were also involved in the operation.
The collaborative global operation termed “In Our Sites,” was first implemented a few years ago and has since gained traction.
The 2017 edition of the operation is so far the most successful with up to 20,520 domain names seized for selling counterfeit goods.
The previous editions have resulted in the seizure of 7,776 websites total.
The counterfeit items listed on the websites ranged from watches, bags, clothes, cosmetics, computer software, DVDs and gaming titles. Most of the criminals were operating on underground markets on the dark web in order to evade law enforcement authorities.
The success can be partly attributed to the input of brand owner representatives and anti-counterfeiting associations, who participated in the joint operation.
Europol’s main aim is to make the internet safer for consumers. In order to achieve this, the agency enlisted the help of a number of countries and stakeholders in the private sector, who provided referrals.
Europol Executive Director Rob Wainwright reiterated the importance and effectiveness of cooperation between all the associated parties. He stated that the agency would continue to work with the partners to tackle intellectual property theft.
These were also the sentiments of Nick Annan, the acting director of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center.
Annan stated that law enforcement authorities have made targeting websites that engage in the theft of intellectual property, including selling counterfeit goods, a priority. Annan added that they seek to reinforce the crackdown on IP crimes by collaborating with both police and industry leaders across the globe.
These efforts seemed to be aimed at the increasing number of illegal markets on the dark web, which allows for anonymous operations via the Tor browser. Officials have explicitly stated that there would be no safe haven for individuals who engage in such activities.
Although, they also recognize that doing so is no easy task.
A recently published Europol report revealed that between 2011 and 2015, drugs worth more than 170 million Euros were traded in darknet markets.
The counterfeit goods business, on both the surface web and dark web via Tor, is a big business.
According to the International Trademark Association, approximately $460 billion worth of fake goods were traded in 2016 alone.
Europol is yet to disclose the names of the seized websites. According to an unidentified spokesperson, the countries that participated in the joint operation have not allowed Europol to disclose any of the domain names.
The domains that were seized currently display the official seals from the involved law enforcement departments.
Europol has currently embarked on a campaign to raise awareness about online counterfeiting. The main reason for this is the fact that it is becoming increasing easy for even tech-savvy consumers to be victims of online counterfeiting.
The agency has started by releasing an awareness video about the risks associated with counterfeit pharmaceuticals ordered from darknet markets.
It also has a dedicated web page aimed at helping consumers identify websites that sell counterfeit goods.
The web page also contains educational resources about the methods utilized by online counterfeit criminals.
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