Bulgarian cybercrime unit busts network selling counterfeit clothes online

As part of an operation involving 27 countries and coordinated by Europol to take down websites offering counterfeit goods or involved in online piracy, the Bulgarian Cybercrime Unit investigated a criminal network using Facebook accounts and websites to sell counterfeit clothes imitating well-known brands, Europol said on November 28.

In a coordinated action, a number of house searches were conducted and a workshop with sewing and embossing machines was discovered.

Authorities seized fake stickers, the labels of well-known trademarks, unbranded articles ready to be processed, 600 counterfeit articles worth 35 000 euro and an illegally possessed firearm, Europol said.

This was part of the recurring international Operation In Our Sites, the European police cooperation agency said.

The operation, which is supported by Eurojust and Interpol, targets, investigates and seizes websites hosting a variety of illicit content.

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.

Key findings of the operation, that took place from May 1 to November 14, also show that more counterfeit products are being assembled within the European Union’s borders and that intellectual property crime is closely intertwined with serious and organised crime, Europol said.

As of this year’s Cyber Monday, law enforcement agencies across several continents have taken down 12 526 websites, disconnected 32 servers used to distribute and host illegal content for 2294 television channels and shut down 15 online shops selling counterfeit products on social media sites.

In the physical realm, investigators seized 127 365 counterfeit products such as clothes, watches, shoes, accessories, perfumes, electronics and phone cases worth more than 3.8 million euro. 

The results of this operation act as a reminder to be extra cautious when shopping online to avoid buying counterfeit products through illicit platforms. Not only can such illicit products present serious health and safety risks to consumers, but the proceeds can also serve criminal networks involved in other forms of crime, the police agency said.

The internet offers these criminals a certain level of anonymity and the possibility of covering their tracks, Europol said.

Its borderless nature facilitates criminal activities that largely take place at an international level. A domain, an IP address or a server may be registered in one country, the bank account for payments in another, while packages are sent from yet another country. This is often being orchestrated by criminals who are not located in any of these jurisdictions. 

Organised crime groups frequently use established social media platforms to promote their websites and guide potential consumers to online sales platforms. Websites offering illicit products may also profit from advertisements.

“Occasionally, even prestigious brands may accidentally publish their ads on such domains, which might cause reputational harm and loss of investment,” Europol said.

In certain cases the advertisements placed on commercial platforms (which are infringing intellectual property rights) may expose the consumer to malware or spyware, which is another reason to be extra careful and check Europol’s advice when shopping online, the police agency said.

(Photo: flickr/Victor Semionov)

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