SALT LAKE CITY — Homeland Security agents in Salt Lake City helped shut down more than 700 domains that were hawking counterfeit products Monday.
The domain names were part of scams to lure customers into buying counterfeit products during the holiday shopping surge.
The U.S. Department Homeland Security joined with 10 law enforcement organizations worldwide in joint operations to locate and seize the domains in conjunction with Cyber Monday.
The National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center arranged the seizures, with officers in the United States confiscating 297 domain names. They worked with Europol countries in capturing 393 sites. Hong Kong Customs seized 16.
Agents worked using tips as leads and used agencies with expertise to help locate the sites, said Andrew Munoz, spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for Utah.
Consumers who purchase counterfeit products not only buy something of poor quality, but they may also put themselves at risk for identity fraud and possible health risks if the product contains unregulated levels of heavy metals, Munoz said.
Within the past three to four years, counterfeit websites have had ties to drug cartels. Munoz encouraged customers to "think twice" before shopping online.
"We always recommend going to known retailers," he said.
The counterfeit websites have become more sophisticated in recent years, Munoz said, and will often be included among Google search results.
"Really it comes down to buyer beware," he said.
A few things can tip a customer off that a website is fake, Munoz said. They are often little things, such as a poorly created website, spelling and grammar errors and poor-quality photos.
He also said the fraudulent websites will often have domain names that are difficult to remember, offer deals that are "too good to be true" or have customer service links to Yahoo! or Gmail accounts.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a list of common counterfeit items, including shoes, headphones and other electronics and toys.
Federal officers bought some of the items undercover. When an item was identified as being counterfeit, they were able to secure orders to seize the domain selling the product, Munoz said.
Governments of the seized domains now have charge of the domains, according to Homeland Security. Those who visit the captured sites will be greeted by a banner that tells of the seizure and gives information on copyright violations.