Government

Europol close down 4,500 websites selling fake brands online

Europol have seized the domains of 4,500 websites after they discovered that they were peddling fake brands and products to consumers online. The massive crackdown saw Europol work closely with police and law enforcement officials all over Europe in their attempts to close websites guilty of engaging in mass fraud.

It was established that the websites were trading in counterfeit goods and that thousands of people had been duped by the elaborate scam across a series of regions in Europe. It also emerged that some of the products sold posed a serious health and safety risk to consumers.

A spokesman for Europol said: “The internet has become an essential channel for e-commerce. Its instant global reach and anonymity make it possible to sell nearly anything to anyone at any time.Counterfeiters know it and are increasingly exploiting the unlimited opportunities the internet offers.”

Agencies from over 27 countries were involved in the operation, with most coming from Europe, although some agencies from the US and Canada were also involved in the crackdown on internet fraud. Products ranging from luxury goods, sportswear, spare parts, electronics, pharmaceuticals and other fake products were being peddled by the fraudsters.

Europol director Rob Wainwright revealed that an operation held in collaboration with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security is held every year, and he disclosed alarming details that there had been a ‘significant increase’ in the number of seized domains names in contrast to last year.

In the last fortnight Dutch anti-fraud police squad arrested a dozen people across Holland as they searched homes and warehouses. It was also disclosed that the sale of counterfeit goods had occurred on social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram.

The Dutch Fiscal Information department released a statement on Europol’s crackdown operation in conjunction with other agencies. It read, "This is a relatively new phenomenon in the trade in counterfeit brand names - more than 3,500 items of clothing and fake luxury goods were seized in Holland, including shoes, bags and perfumes purporting to be such brands as Nike and Adidas with a market value of tens of thousands euros.”

Publishing a guide on how to spot fake websites and social media scams, Europol warned consumers had to be on their guard. "When shopping online, you are more likely to fall victim to counterfeiters," it said as "without the physical product to look at and feel, it can be more difficult for you to spot the differences.”  It also warned that by using illicit websites online shoppers "are exposing your computer or mobile device to cyber-attacks like phishing or malware."