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International Operation Shuts Down Pirate Websites and Counterfeit Traders

Europol Investigating Piracy
Image Credit: Wikipedia

As of 28 November, law enforcement agencies around the world have shut down 12,526 websites, and disconnected 32 servers used to distribute and host illegal content in the fight against piracy online. Police have also shut down 15 online shops selling counterfeit products on social media sites. As part of the operation investigators seized EUR 3.8 million of counterfeit products including clothes, watches, shoes, accessories, perfumes, electronics, and phone cases.

The prime suspect in one intellectual property crime investigation was earning EUR 150 000 a month from piracy and living a lavish lifestyle in a luxury house, driving super cars and travelling over the world. The criminal network dedicated itself to large-scale marketing and distribution of pirated audio-visual content on the internet.

Over 35,000 € of fake products seized already

As part of the operation, Spanish police disconnected 32 servers hosting the illicit content and seized cash, documents and two luxury vehicles. 10 search warrants were issued and 14 people were detained or formally accused of intellectual property crimes.

In addition, the Bulgarian Cybercrime Unit investigated a criminal network using Facebook accounts and websites to sell counterfeit clothes. Detectives searched the homes of suspects in the case and a workshop with sewing and embossing machines was discovered. Authorities seized EUR 35,000 worth of counterfeit articles, fake stickers, the labels of well-known trademarks, unbranded articles and an illegal firearm.

Piracy In Our Sites

Operation In Our Sites (IOS), launched in 2014, is a Europol-coordinated operation to take down websites offering counterfeit goods or those involved in online piracy. Between 1 May to 14 November the operation found that more counterfeit products are being assembled within the European Union’s borders and that intellectual property crime and piracy is closely intertwined with serious and organised crime.

The operation found that the main issues continue to be intellectual property infringement on trademarks, as well as on copyrighted content available on internet protocol television (IPTV) and movie streaming services, peer-to-peer sharing platforms and hosting websites.

The internet can provide criminals anonymity and a cross-border distributed network to make it hard for investigators to track them down. An IP address or a server may be registered in one country, the bank account for payments in another, and a different country can be used to send packages.

Being online brings its own problems

Furthermore, criminals are often not located in any of these jurisdictions. This makes it complex for international law enforcement to police.

Organised crime groups regularly use popular social media platforms to attract consumers to their online sales platforms, some of which, contain malware and spyware. The police stress that shoppers need to be careful when shopping online.

Counterfeit products present serious health and safety risks to consumers and the sites used to buy illegal products and services present a data security risk. The proceeds also serve criminal networks involved in other forms of crime.

James Capell

Technical editor and journalist. I have a particularly strong interest in NLP, AI ethics and cyber crime. Not too fond of cats.