The Internet’s role in commerce has opened unprecedented opportunities for creators and businesses to connect with fans and consumers, and given fans and consumers formerly unimaginable access to products and services they otherwise wouldn’t have. Unfortunately, the mounting problem of offshore criminal websites is jeopardizing this thriving marketplace and putting consumers at risk.
Also known as “rogue web sites”, these foreign-based sites are designed and operated with the purpose of monetizing widespread reproduction and distribution of complete and unauthorized digital versions of copyrighted works, or selling counterfeited products.
Out of reach of U.S. law enforcement, these sites market to U.S. consumers products that are unlicensed, unregulated, and unsafe, exposing U.S. consumers to problems from privacy violations and fraud, to outright physical harm.
These sites go out of their way to trick consumers into believing they are legitimate. Like wolves in sheep’s clothing, these sites use trademarked logos of recognizable U.S. brands, payment processors, and ads from well-known companies to cloak themselves in safety and legitimacy.
The consequences of unwittingly doing business with these sites are multiple.
- Risk of fraud or identity theft from sites that ask for subscription or membership fees;
- Risk of malware and spyware;
- Receipt of products of substandard quality with no recourse, such as DVDs without hi definition, extras they have come to expect, or coding that allows playback on home theater equipment;
- Spin-off products like clothing, toys or costumes of unregulated quality.
These problems can take on even graver consequences when considering other types of merchandise sold on rogues sites, like medicines, auto parts, or children’s toys. A recent column in the Washington Times offers several examples of consumer encounters with counterfeit pharmacies, for example.
Bills currently being considered in Congress, the PROTECT-IP Act in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House, would give law enforcement officials tools to shut off these kinds of criminal sites operating overseas.
Organizations dedicated to consumer welfare and safety like the Better Business Bureau, the Fraternal Order of Police and the National Consumers League support these bills.
In a letter November 3 to members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, Stephen Cox, President and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, wrote:
“Rogue websites are often designed to deceive consumers into believing they are legitimate by misappropriating trademarks from respected businesses and entities – including the BBB – to foster trust with those who visit the sites. However, these sites are in fact often run by criminals who purvey shoddy fakes that can in many cases endanger consumers’ health and safety. Rogue sites that sell counterfeit medicines, batteries, smoke alarms and brake pads are just a few of the many examples where the criminals who operate them have put consumers at risk.
“Moreover, consumers who share sensitive personal and financial information with these sites are also exposed to an increased risk of falling victim to other malicious online activity such as phishing scams, identity theft, or viruses.”
Without better safeguards, shopping online can become a little like playing Russian roulette. These bills provide targeted, common-sense solutions to this consumer safety risk.
Consumer Safety and Welfare Organizations Supporting This Legislation:
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