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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Washington

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cyber Monday Alert: Avoid Counterfeit Sites and Goods

“Spear Phishing” Prevalent In Western District Of Washington

            Cyber Monday kicks off the online holiday shopping season, and federal law enforcement officials are warning about cyber scams that can wreck your holiday spirit.  U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan and Brad Bench, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), highlighted some of the dangers circulating on the web, including “spear phishing” and sales of counterfeit goods.  Today, ICE agents across the country shut down more than 700 websites which were selling counterfeit sports and designer items – some of the counterfeit goods pose safety concerns.

            “Scammers turn out in force during the holidays and want your personal information in their stockings,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  “They have more ways than ever before to steal your information.  Sometimes scammers try to get your information by putting up a phony website with a name very similar to a legitimate retailer or they send you an email purporting to be about an ‘order’ you placed.  If you open the attachment to see what you ordered, it can infect your computer and give scam artists remote access to it.  We urge everyone to be on guard and protect yourself”

            “Spear phishing” is when online scammers use snippets of information about a victim to try to gain access to additional personal information. Spear phishing might use information posted on social media or target an individual because of their online shopping.  For example, if a victim has shopped online for certain products, a spear phishing scam may use the fact that the person accessed certain sites to try to send malicious code in an attachment or link related to that shopping.

            “Saving a buck to show Seahawks pride is not worth risking your health or putting money in the pockets of organized crime,” said Brad Bench, special agent in charge of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations. “Criminal organizations are using slick web design and discount prices to fool consumers into buying counterfeit products, from sports jerseys to exercise equipment to medication. These are almost always substandard products made with cheap materials that can expose consumers to high levels of harmful chemicals and heavy metals.”

            Efforts to protect consumers from counterfeit goods and internet scams have had some success:

  • In 2012, HSI and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized 22,848 shipments worth more than $1.26 billion in manufacturer’s suggested retail prices.
  • In 2012, 72 percent, or $906 million, of the counterfeit seizures by ICE and CBP originated in China.  Handbags and wallets were the top commodities seized and the value of these seizures increased more than 140 percent from FY 2011.
  • The fake merchandise and the bogus websites look very authentic.  The prices are not ridiculously low, just slightly discounted.  Even a savvy consumer might not realize he or she is being duped.  Sadly, these are the new tricks of the counterfeiting trade.

If you think you have been the target of an internet scam report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), at www.ic3.gov.  The complaints help analysts identify leads and patterns from the hundreds of complaints that are received daily.  The IC3 then refers the complaints, along with their analyses, to the relevant law enforcement agency for follow-up.

The public can learn about other common scams by visiting http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/frauds-from-a-to-z, and learn about ways to reduce their risk of being scammed: http://www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/internet_fraud.

Updated March 23, 2015