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EUROPOL_logo.svgEurope’s law enforcement agency Europol announced on Monday it seized more than 4,500 websites illegally selling fake products to consumers online.

In a press release, the agency said the successful operation involved the participation of law enforcement authorities from 27 countries, anti-counterfeiting associations and brand owner representatives.

Called Operation In our Sites (IOS) VII, the joint operation aimed to tackle copyright-infringing sites and third-party marketplaces listings selling counterfeit luxury goods, sportswear, spare parts, electronics, pharmaceuticals and toiletries, among other products.

“This year’s operation IOS VII has seen a significant increase in the number of seized domain names compared to last year,” said Director of Europol Rob Wainwright.

“This excellent result shows how effective cooperation between law enforcement authorities and private sector partners is vital to ultimately make the internet a safer place for consumers.”

In November 2015, the agency announced it took down nearly 1,000 websites selling counterfeit merchandise as part of Operation IOS VI.

Europol and the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) joined forces in July 2016 to launch the Intellectual Property Crime Coordination Coalition (IPC³).

“Through [IPC³], Europol will continue to work closely with its partners to strengthen the fight against intellectual property crime online and offline,” added Wainwright.

The agency warned counterfeiters are increasingly taking advantage of the internet to deceive, sell and ship fake products directly to unsuspecting consumers.

“Despite these products looking like a bargain, they can pose serious risks to the health and safety of buyers,” said Europol.

To raise awareness of the growing threat, Europol’s IPC³ unveiled a new campaign ­– dubbed “Don’t F***(ake) Up” – aimed at informing citizens about the risks of buying fake products online, how to identify illicit websites, as well as other means used by counterfeiters, such as fake social media accounts and fake apps.

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Europol advises online shoppers to look for the following red flags:

  • If the price seems to good to be true, it probably is.
  • Check if the “About us” and “Contact us” pages contain full details: name of the company, address, phone number or an official email address.
  • Check for grammar and spelling mistakes or if the site looks unfinished.
  • Check if the domain name contains the word “genuine,” “replica” or “original,” or the name of a brand/product with words like “offer” or discount.”
  • Check if the domain is registered in a different country than yours.
  • Check how long the domain has existed. If it has been active for less than a year, it could be a scam website.
  • Check if the photos are of bad quality, resized or difficult to see, or the opposite – copied from original websites or stock photos.
  • Read reviews from different pages, online forums and search engines.
  • Search for information about replicas and fakes of the product you intend to buy, so you know what to look for.
  • Check that the site is secure and its URL begins with “https” instead of “http.”
  • Check if the site offers a return policy, terms and conditions and a privacy policy.

For more tips on how to detect fraudulent sites, see Europol’s How-To Guide here.