Cyber pirates feel Monday mourning blues

International police celebrated Cyber Monday with a cyber bust of gargantuan proportions – shutting down more than 12,500 illegal websites and disconnecting dozens of servers streaming pirated content across thousands of channels.

Europol announced the bust in tandem with its global counterpart Interpol and Eurojust, the culmination of a six-month operation between May and November involving 27 countries in Europe and the Americas.

Though it took in countries as far away as Colombia and Brazil, the operation centered on nailing the alleged ringleaders in Spain, with local police leading the raids and arresting more than a dozen suspects.

“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,” said Europol.

A good day for the cyber cops

Fourteen suspects were detained, whom Europol accuses of enjoying “lavish lifestyles” on the back of allegedly ill-gotten gains.

“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 2,294 television channels, and shut down 15 online shops selling counterfeit products on social media sites,” it said.

This was paralleled by good old-fashioned contraband seizures in the “physical realm” as well, with investigators discovering 127,365 counterfeit products, including clothes, watches, shoes, accessories, perfumes, electronic goods, and cellphone cases worth more than €3.8 million in total.

Police inspect counterfeit merchandise being sold on internet by criminals
Europol agents inspect counterfeit goods being sold online by criminal gang

One of the suspects was allegedly raking in €150,000 per month, “living a lavish lifestyle in a luxury house, driving expensive cars and embarking on extravagant vacations all over the world.”

“The criminal network dedicated itself to large-scale marketing and distribution of pirated audio-visual content on the internet,” said Europol. “As part of the operation, Spanish police disconnected 32 servers hosting the illicit content and seized cash, documents, and two luxury vehicles.”

E-buyer beware

Europol warns shoppers to be especially wary when venturing online in search of a bargain, as the worldwide web also offers organized cyber gangs a considerable degree of impunity.

“The internet offers these criminals a certain level of anonymity and the possibility of covering their tracks,” it said. “Its borderless nature facilitates criminal activities that largely take place at an international level. A domain, an IP [internet protocol] 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.”

In particular, Europol urges the public to treat social media sales links with the utmost caution.

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

The waters are further muddied by the fact that even legitimate companies can sometimes “accidentally” stray into the murky stretches frequented by bad actors.

“Occasionally, even prestigious brands may accidentally publish their ads on such domains, which might cause reputational harm and loss of investment,” it added. “In certain cases the advertisements placed on commercial platforms – which are infringing intellectual property rights – may expose the consumer to malware or spyware.”

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