Fake cosmetics head Europol-led op shuttering 21,910 websites

The latest Europol campaign against websites offering pirated content and counterfeit goods has resulted in 21,910 domain name takedowns and the seizure of hundreds of thousands of fake goods.

The seized items were worth an estimated €2.5m ($3m) and included counterfeit pharmaceuticals and pirated films, illegal television streaming, music, software and other bogus products.

In terms of volumes of seized products, perfume bottles accounted for the largest category, at almost 70,000 items, followed closely by cosmetics at more than 22,600 items and mobile phone accessories at more than 22,000.

There were also around 9,000 fake clothing items, nearly 7,500 boxes of detergent and 4,800 boxes of counterfeit condoms.

“Tackling the website domains selling counterfeit commodities, or involved with online piracy, has become a growing concern for all law enforcement bodies due to the versatility of the criminals, who can easily make large profits and deleting their internet tracks in a very short period of time,” said Europol in a statement.

The latest, eleventh instalment of Operation In Our Sites  (IOS XI) shut down fewer domains than the 30,500 and 33,600 taken offline in 2019 and 2018, respectively, but the value of goods seized is higher and the hit rate still dwarfs the 188 websites shuttered in 2014, its first year.

As always, the operation is carried out in the build-up to the Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping splurge to try to have the most impact on the illicit trade.

While its hard to draw any conclusions of a trend from this type of activity – particularly in a pandemic year – the hope is that the smaller number of domains reflects an impact by enforcement on the criminal networks that are often behind these websites.

Europol conducted the operation in collaboration with Interpol and Eurojust, the EU Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation.

The countries participating in this year’s operation were as follows: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Hong Kong/China, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Peru, South Korea, Moldova, Serbia, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Portugal, Ukraine, UK, and the US.

To raise awareness of this growing threat, Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordinated Coalition IPC3 has developed the Don’t F***(ake) Up prevention campaign.

The campaign aims to inform citizens of the risks of buying fake products online and give advice to help identify illicit websites selling counterfeit goods, as well as other means used by counterfeiters, such as fake social media accounts and fake apps.

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