U.S. ICE seizes 70 more websites for alleged copyright infringement

The agency has seized 839 websites for selling allegedly counterfeit products over the last two years

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has seized 70 websites accused of selling products that infringe copyright, bringing the number of websites seized by ICE in the last two years to 839.

The websites recently seized sold jewelry, baby carriers, headphones, sports jerseys, language-learning software and other items, according to pictures of the websites posted on ICE's website. The seized sites "closely mimicked legitimate websites selling authentic merchandise and duped consumers into unknowingly buying counterfeit goods," ICE said in a press release.

The National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, led by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations, has shut down the websites and taken control of their domain names, ICE said. Visitors to the sites will see a banner saying that the domain name has been seized by federal authorities.

The ICE seizure banner has received more than 103 million page views in the last two years, ICE said.

"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," ICE Director John Morton said in a statement. "The imposter sites were simply a fraud from start to finish and served no purpose other than to defraud and dupe unwary shoppers."

Some of the new websites seized used Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates, which are supposed to authenticate financial information and give customers trust that they are sending information to the intended service and not to criminals. Trusted SSL providers should only issue SSL certificates to verified companies that have gone through several identity checks, ICE said. The SSL certificates helped "dupe" customers into thinking they were shopping at a legitimate site, ICE said.

During the operation, federal agents made undercover purchases for a variety of products, ICE said. In most cases, the products were shipped from outside the U.S.

Of the 769 previous domain names seized, 229 have been forfeited to the U.S. government. The forfeiture process allows owners of the websites to file a petition with a federal court to contest the seizure, ICE said. If no claims are filed, the U.S. government takes ownership of the domains.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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