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Police Shutter 2,000 Fraudulent Shopping Sites

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Fake e-commerce sites defrauded shoppers of millions of pounds ahead of Christmas buying season

More than 2,000 fraudulent e-commerce websites have been shut down by the Metropolitan Police’s Central e-Crime Unit (PCeU) ahead of the Christmas shopping season, the latest move in the unit’s long-running battle against counterfeiting and fraud.

The PCeU worked with registrar Nominet to identify and shut down the site, but said no arrests were made. The police and Nominet would not name the sites which were taken down – but hinted that a future change might bring in “name and shame” publication of the culprits, as a result of the Nominet’s current review of criminal takedown rules.

Brand swap

The unit targeted websites that were marketing products from well-known brands such as Nike, GHD, Tiffany and Ugg. Consumers were duped into paying for the products and then received shoddy knock-off items or nothing. The sites had taken in millions of pounds according to police.

Users who fall foul of such fraudulent sites run the risk of having their identities stolen or seeing their bank details used for criminal activity elsewhere, police said.

The mass shutdown follows a similar move in December 2009 when 1,200 websites were shut down.

“The sites suspended are registered in bulk by crime groups with the sole intention of duping consumers into parting with their money for, at best, poor quality counterfeit goods, at worst, nothing at all,” said the PCeU’s DI Paul Hoare, in a statement.

He said the action doesn’t mean that consumers are safe from fraud ahead of the Christmas season.

“In the run up to Christmas the PCeU will continue to work with Nominet and other registries to disable as many such sites as possible but I would urge customers to take all precautions to ensure they buy from legitimate sites only.”

Crackdown

Nominet said it had notified the domain holders before the sites were closed. The registrar has said it is seeking the authority to shut down fraudulent sites itself in order to speed the process, since those responsible for the scam websites are free to simply resume their activities using other domains.

Nominet would not name  the domains or their owners: a spokesperson told eWEEK Europe: “It’s Nominet’s policy not to divulge which domains have been suspended. We’ve checked with our contact at the Met Police press office who have confirmed this is also their policy.”

“This may change in the future,” said the spokesperson. “Nominet is reviewing its policy on dealing with criminal activity on .uk domain names, and the draft recommendations discuss the possibility of some sort of publishing mechanism.” Nomninet’s review of the handling of criminal domains, began in February.

Aside from dealing with scam sites, law enforcement agencies are also working to identify and arrest those responsible for e-crime.

For instance, earlier this month the PCeU said it had jailed 13 people involved in cyber-gang that executed a sophisticated banking fraud using malware to steal millions of pounds from hundreds of people.

The cyber-crime ring is accused of using Trojans to infect PCs and stealing sensitive information, including bank account numbers and log-in credentials, the eCrime Unit said. The criminals allegedly used the stolen information to access victims’ bank accounts and transfer money to accounts under their control to the tune of at least £2.9 million.

Also this month the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said it had worked with international agencies to charge six individuals with conducting a sophisticated click-fraud scheme that netted them millions of dollars.

International fraud schemes

The cyber-ring infected about four million computers in 100 countries with malware and pocketed at least $14 million (£9m)by manipulating online advertisements, the FBI said. Six people were arrested in Estonia on 8 November. The seventh member of the gang, a Russian national, remains at large, according to the FBI.

In July authorities in the United States and Romania arrested more than 100 people in connection with Internet fraud schemes. The arrests were part of a year-long effort to stop Internet fraud schemes that have apparently cost Americans more than $100 million (£62m).

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