By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Law enforcement officials said on Monday they had shut down 82 websites selling thousands of counterfeit and pirated goods in a move timed with the start of the online holiday shopping season.
"As of today -- what is known as 'Cyber Monday' and billed as the busiest online shopping day of the year -- anyone attempting to access one of these websites using its domain name will no longer be able to make a purchase," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters.
The coordinated law enforcement effort, known as "Operation In Our Sites II," targeted online retailers of a diverse array of counterfeit goods, including sports equipment, shoes, handbags, athletic apparel, sunglasses, and illegal copies of DVDs, music and software, Holder said.
Visitors to the websites will see a banner saying the domain name has been seized by federal law enforcement officials and warning that dealing in counterfeit goods is a federal crimes that carries penalties for first time offenders of up to 10 years in jail and a $2 million fine.
The term Cyber Monday was coined five years ago for the day many people return to work after U.S. Thanksgiving Day and make online gift purchases on their computers.
Online holiday shopping is forecast to rise 11 percent this year, after a promising start on Thanksgiving Day.
The list of shuttered websites reflects the huge volume of fake and pirated goods easily available on the Internet. It included 2009jerseys.com, boxset4less.com, cheapscarfshop.com, and massnike.com among many others.
About 80 percent of the counterfeit goods that U.S. customs officials seize each year come from China.
Business groups complain the theft results in hundreds of thousands of lost American jobs and put consumers at risk of injury or even death from shoddy imitations.
"The sale of counterfeit U.S. brands on the Internet steals the creative work of others, costs our economy jobs and revenue and can threaten the health and safety of American consumers," John Morton, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a statement.
In the United States, companies that rely on copyrights, patents and other forms of intellectual property rights protection employ over 18 million people and account for more than $5 trillion of the U.S. gross domestic product, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates current global trade in counterfeit goods at more than $200 billion a year.
During the investigation, federal law enforcement agents made undercover purchases from online retailers suspected of selling counterfeit goods.
If the goods -- many of which came from foreign suppliers by means of international express mail -- were confirmed to be counterfeit or otherwise illegal, federal agents then obtained a court order to seize the domain name.
The Chamber of Commerce has called on Congress to give the U.S. government stronger tools to go after "rogue websites" located overseas by passing the Combating Online Counterfeit and Infringement Act, which cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee 19-0 earlier this month.
"We can no longer sit on the sidelines while American intellectual property is stolen and sold online using our own infrastructure. This costs American jobs, hurts our economy, and puts consumers at risk," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said in a statement on Monday.
(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; editing by Paul Simao)