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Posted at 4:44 PM ET, 11/29/2010

Domain names snared in knockoff bust

By Mary Pat Flaherty

Forget warm woolen mittens.

When federal agents go online to bust counterfeit goods, a few of their favorite things are sports jerseys, DVDs, handbags, golf clubs and poseur UGG boots. Bright copper kettles? No. But full seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Tales from the Crypt were on the wish lists.

Right in time for the busy online shopping day dubbed Cyber Monday, federal courts ordered the seizure of 82 web domain namesin a federal crackdown announced by U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and John Morton, director of the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Agents across the country posed as Internet customers and ordered supposed high-end goods, including buys that caused 17 domain names to be seized through the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The goods were not in the Washington area; the faux ICE shopper buying the reputedly fake items was. The suspect goods identified in court filings came chiefly from domain names traced to China.

"The blatant sale of counterfeit goods over the Internet during the holiday season is conduct that cannot and will not be tolerated," said Ronald C. Machen Jr., U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. The sale of counterfeit goods, he said, "weakens our economy, pushes substandard merchandise to consumers, and diminishes incentives for innovation and creativity."

Let it be noted, the agent working on the D.C. arm of the investigation dealt with some of the same headaches as regular shoppers do, according to court records.

The Louis Vuitton Mahina Leather gray bag promised by a site was out of stock. "Order something else," came a reply after the agent's credit card purchase for $245 went through on the gray, the agent said in a court affidavit.

He replaced it with an order for a beige bag. A replica jersey for Hall of Fame Cleveland Indians shortstop Lou Boudreau (1948 team) was sold out. The agent had better luck with the alleged Cleveland Browns jersey for Josh Cribbs.

So who among local sports celebrities was a big enough name to attract a counterfeiter's time? As court files show, the Redskins' quarterback Donovan McNabb and Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg were given a nod in jerseys that the agent determined violated trademark protections.

The goodies won't go into anyone's stocking. They have been seized and, after legal proceedings, likely will be destroyed.

Click into those identified shopping spots sites Monday and you found a large no-nonsense notice that said the site had been seized and a warning that willful copyright infringement is a federal crime.

By seizing the domain names, Holder said in a statement, "we have disrupted the sale of thousand of counterfeit items, while also cutting off funds to those willing to exploit the ingenuity of others for their own personal gain."

The sites may resurface under different domain names but the seizures, federal officials said, would cut into bustling holiday season sales.

Indeed, the rebranding of the sites was already underway as the agent in D.C. shopped, court files show. After snagging a cheap travel bag from a web site on Oct. 14 that proved to be a fake Coach bag, the agent said in court files, he went back online to the same site to buy another.

The company's outlet site was down by Oct. 17, but through a hotmail account, the agent connected with customer service and was directed to another online address where on Oct. 20, he ordered what was supposed to be a Coach wallet in khaki pink.

A wallet -- but not authentic Coach, he said in his affidavit -- was waiting at his undercover post office box in the District on Nov. 10.

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By Mary Pat Flaherty  | November 29, 2010; 4:44 PM ET
Categories:  Cons & Scams, Mary Pat Flaherty, The District  
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