BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP & WGRZ) - Federal law enforcement authorities announced the seizure of 132 websites in several countries -- and in Western New York. The crackdown is aimed at stopping the sale of counterfeit merchandise online.
Local officials were behind 15 of those website seizures. Many of the websites were selling counterfeit products from Buffalo-based New Era, where executives estimate fake hats and other merchandise cost them $300 million every year.
James Spero, the special agent in charge of the local Homeland Security Investigations office, said the counterfeit merchandise hurts the local economy and local jobs; also, the fake products are usually inferior and can even be dangerous.
He said the timing was critical.
"The idea was to get the sites down before 'Cyber Monday,'" Spero said.
The Cyber Monday crackdown comes on what's expected to be the biggest online shopping day of the year. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations coordinated the effort with Europol and police in several European countries.
In Western New York, Gary Hammer, 47 of Cheektowaga, is charged with trafficking in counterfeit goods. Investigators said he was peddling counterfeit versions of Microsoft products. The charge carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison, a fine of $2,000,000, or both.
2 On Your Side was unable to reach Hammer for comment, but he told the Associated Press that this was "a big misunderstanding."
Authorities say it's the third consecutive Cyber Monday that websites selling knockoff sports jerseys, DVDs and other goods have been targeted. They say sites were seized after copyright holders confirmed that products purchased there by investigators were illegal. Site visitors now see a banner explaining the seizure and copyright infringement.
Homeland Security field offices in Buffalo, New Jersey, California, Maryland, Colorado and Texas investigated.
Tips to avoid getting scammed
Officials say your best defense is to use common sense. If a product -- specifically its price -- seems too good to be true, it probably is. Anything discounted more than 20% is likely a fake.
U.S. Attorney William Hochul said using a credit card can protect you in many cases, because the credit card companies often refund money to consumers that are scammed by fraudulent retailers.
Investigators said customers should also research online merchants before making purchases. For instance, call the business during regular business hours and see if it has an actual brick and mortar headquarters. Online retailers that do not -- or that get their mail at a post office box -- are often fake.