HSI Denver seizes 22 counterfeit merchandise websites in 'Project Copycat'
48 other websites seized nationwide that dupe unwary shoppers
STATEMENT BY U.S. Attorney John Walsh, District of Colorado
“ICE HSI Denver Special Agents today seized 22 websites based on 6 seizure warrants to stop the counterfeit sale of merchandise that threatens intellectual property rights and human health and safety. I want to commend the HSI agents for their hard work conducting this investigation. I would also like to recognize the outstanding work of ICE Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lillian Alves and Shana Martin, who worked diligently to obtain these court authorized warrants. Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys have worked closely with HSI agents from the beginning of this initiative to develop detailed operational procedures that support the seizure of the websites and prevent the sale of this illegal merchandise.”
DENVER — As part of “Project Copycat,” special agents from the local office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seized 22 websites that were illegally selling counterfeit merchandise. (listed below)
Those websites are among the 70 seized nationally by the ICE-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) as part of Project Copycat. Many of the websites so closely resembled legitimate ones that it would be difficult for even discerning consumers to tell the difference. The websites are now shut down and their domain names are in the custody of the federal government. Visitors to these websites will find a seizure banner notifying them that the domain name has been seized and educating them about the federal crime of willful copyright infringement.
“This operation targeted criminals making a buck by trying to trick consumers into believing they were buying name-brand products from legitimate websites when in fact they were buying counterfeits from illegal but sophisticated imposter sites located overseas,” said ICE Director John Morton. “The imposter sites were simply a fraud from start to finish and served no purpose other than to defraud and dupe unwary shoppers.”
Investigators uncovered a troubling new twist in the websites seized in Project Copycat. Many of them appeared to have Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates. SSL certificates provide authentication for financial information, assuring consumers they are sending information to the intended recipient and not to a criminal’s server. Trusted SSL providers should only issue SSL certificates to verified companies that have gone through several identity checks. In addition to providing authentication, SSL certificates also provide encryption, enhancing the security of credit card numbers, usernames, passwords and other sensitive information. These websites, however, displayed SSL certificates, further duping consumers into thinking they were shopping on a legitimate website.
Most of the merchandise purchased through the “copycat” websites was shipped directly into the United States from suppliers in other countries. If the copyright holders confirmed that the purchased products were counterfeit or otherwise illegal, seizure orders for the domain names of the websites that sold the goods were obtained from federal magistrate judges.
Project Copycat is the next phase of In Our Sites (IOS), a sustained law enforcement initiative launched in 2010 to protect consumers from the sale of counterfeit merchandise on the Internet. With the addition of the websites targeted during Project Copycat, IOS has now resulted in the seizure of more than 800 domain names in the last two years.
The IPR Center is one of the U.S. government’s key weapons in the fight against counterfeiting and piracy. The IPR Center uses the expertise of its 20 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to intellectual property theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public’s health and safety, the U.S. economy and the war fighters.
These cases are part of efforts being undertaken by the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property (IP Task Force) to stop the theft of intellectual property. Attorney General Eric Holder created the IP Task Force to combat the growing number of domestic and international intellectual property crimes, protect the health and safety of American consumers, and safeguard the nation’s economic security against those who seek to profit illegally from American creativity, innovation and hard work.
To report IP theft or to learn more about the IPR Center, visit www.IPRCenter.gov.
The following 22 websites were seized by the HSI Denver office: