1. Headline
  1. Headline
By
updated 11/29/2011 9:53:01 PM ET 2011-11-30T02:53:01

Federal authorities have shut down 150 websites accused of selling knock-off or pirated merchandise to unsuspecting online bargain hunters.

  1. More from TODAY.com
    1. Al Roker, Jay Leno kick off USO comedy tour in Afghanistan

      Al Roker, Jay Leno, Craig Robinson, Iliza Shlesinger and Kevin Eubanks are in Afghanistan Wednesday, gearing up to perform...

    2. Derek Jeter tells TODAY: ‘I consider myself young again’
    3. Joan Lunden: 10 things I wish I knew before I was diagnosed with breast cancer
    4. Want to help? A guide to breast cancer charities
    5. Aretha Franklin covers Adele's 'Rolling in the Deep': Who did it best?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lanny A. Breuer announced the results of the ICE and FBI three-month investigation on "Cyber Monday," the day that for many shoppers kicks off the online holiday shopping season.

The government seized the domain names for the sites that sold everything from fake replica NBA jerseys to replica Louis Vuitton handbags and imitation Ugg boots.

"This is straight crime," Morton said. "This is people being duped into buying a counterfeit."

The federal government has seized the domain names of 350 websites since first targeting online counterfeiters in June 2010. Each investigation, Morton said, has grown.

Visitors to the seized domains are now greeted with a message from federal authorities explaining that the site has been seized by the government and a warning that "willful copyright infringement is a federal crime."

Nation's hottest brands include unfamiliar names

Morton and Breuer said while the domain names were registered in the United States most of the websites were run from abroad, primarily in China. No one has been charged with a crime in connection with the most recently seized domains. But Breuer said the investigations are ongoing.

Earlier this year five people were indicted in Virginia on conspiracy and copyright infringement charges for their roles in operating a website that the Justice Department said allowed people to illegally download high-quality movies and television shows.

Four people accused of running NinjaVideo.net have pleaded guilty. A fifth person is being sought.

Story: Cyber Monday, Green Tuesday ... Black Friday isn't the only game in town

It's unclear how much money the seized sites have made, or potentially cost legitimate companies. Breuer said since the crackdown on counterfeit sellers started last year, Internet users have gone to the seized domains more than 77 million times.

"Typically we don't track the volumes of sales of these particular sites," Morton said, adding that criminal organizations often hide ill-gotten profits. "It is very large figures. Well, well above millions."

Morton said it may seem like a trivial thing to buy a knock-off football jersey or look-alike sunglasses, but the profits seized by counterfeiters can help fund far more nefarious activities.

"This is increasingly not simply a matter of mom and pop violations at the corner of Fourth and Main," Morton said. "We are worried about organized crime and (that profits) are going to fuel other criminal activity."

Morton would not say if organized criminal groups are suspected of running any of the seized sites to help fund other criminal acts.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Piracy awareness campaign rolled out

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

More on TODAY.com

  1. Did it spread? What we know about the Texas Ebola patient

    The first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola outside of Africa during the ongoing epidemic is being treated at a Dallas hospital. Here's what we know about him and the risk to Americans.

    10/1/2014 10:40:06 AM +00:00 2014-10-01T10:40:06
  2. CDC confirms first Ebola case in U.S.
  1. California mayor fatally shot in domestic dispute

    Daniel Crespo Sr., 45, a California mayor was shot and killed Tuesday during what authorities told NBC News was a domestic dispute involving his wife and son. His wife Lyvette Crespo, 43, was detained, questioned and later released without being charged.

    10/1/2014 10:37:53 AM +00:00 2014-10-01T10:37:53