Police close scam websites targeting Christmas shoppers

By Martin Hickman,Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Thursday 03 December 2009 16:45

Police have closed hundreds of websites conning shoppers hoping to buy fashionable Ugg boots, officers said today.

During recent months foreign websites offering cut-price Uggs have sprouted up across the web but when people pay they receive fakes – or nothing.

Acting on tip-offs from consumer groups, the Metropolitan Police announced it had frozen 1,219 websites offering the boots and fakes of other designer brands such as Tiffany jewellery and Links of London.

Detectives said the perpetrators of the frauds were unlikely to be traced given they had set up the sites using anonymous emails and fake identification.

Criminal gangs in Asia are believed to make millions of pounds from the fraud and complaints about fake Ugg boots have tripled in the past 12 months. More than 20,000 counterfeit pairs have been seized by Customs officers.

A third of the fake websites were thought to have been advertising Ugg boots, legally made by UGG in Australia.

As well as losing their money, consumers also risked further mis-use of their credit card details.

Detective Superintendent Charlie McMurdie, head of the police’s e-crime unit, said the scam homed in on particularly desirable consumer goods. “Fraudsters target the victim's desire to buy designer goods at reduced prices, particularly at this time of year. The risk begins when your desire to purchase blinds your judgment or leads you to illegal websites,” he said.

He warned: “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

Consumer Direct, Trading Standards, and the Office of Fair Trading helped officers identify the fraudulent websites.

The vast majority were registered from Asia, despite their UK domain names, mostly using false or misleading details. Police said it was “almost impossible” for victims to complain about poor quality, counterfeited items or undelivered goods.

The latest action, codenamed Operation Papworth, speedily removed the sites with the help of Nominet, the body responsible for domain names in the UK.

Lesley Cowley, chief executive of Nominet, said: “We received clear instructions from the Police E-Crimes Unit to take down the .co.uk domain names, which have been under investigation for criminal activity. We worked closely with the police and our registrars to quickly carry out the instruction to shut down access to these sites.

“The vast majority of .co.uk domains are legitimate, but where there are investigations about improper or illegal activity, we work with law enforcement bodies such as the Metropolitan Police to help identify and then limit the number of illegal or fake websites.”

The Met advised anyone who was ripped off by the sites to contact Consumer Direct. Customers may be able to obtain refunds from credit card companies.