Federal agents seize record amount of bogus software

Monday, November 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WHITTIER, Calif. (AP) _ Authorities say they had made the largest seizure of counterfeit computer software in U.S. history, material worth an estimated $100 million if sold at retail prices.

The haul included nearly 31,000 phony copies of Microsoft's Windows Millennium edition and Windows 2000 Professional operating systems for personal computers.

There were also tens of thousands of copies of Symantec products, including the popular Norton antivirus software.

The products originated in Taiwan and came complete with counterfeit packaging, manuals and authentication that included holographic stamps and registration codes.

Some even carried the warning, ``Do not make illegal copies of this disc'' and urged consumers to contact Microsoft with concerns about piracy.

``They look so good that the purchaser would not know it was counterfeit,'' said Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca as the seizure was displayed Friday at a sheriff's department warehouse.

The seizure resulted from an 18-month undercover investigation known as ``Operation White Horse'' in which a U.S. Customs agent pretended to be corrupt and accept bribes to allow 40-foot shipping containers of counterfeit software and cigarettes to move through the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex, authorities said.

The software ``could have been sold via the Internet or even through legitimate retailers who were unaware that they are counterfeit,'' said Richard LaMagna, head of worldwide piracy enforcement for Microsoft.

Three people were arrested Nov. 6 and face federal charges of bribery, conspiracy and smuggling. Another person has been charged with state violations of counterfeiting a registered trademark.

Microsoft said a study by the International Planning & Research Group indicates that a third of the business software in the world is counterfeit, resulting in revenue losses of nearly $12 billion annually.

The study noted that internationally, while more than 80 percent of business software in many markets is pirated, the countries with the largest dollar losses are Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The seizure was spearheaded by the Southern California High-Tech Crimes Task Force, which includes officers from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, U.S. Customs and the Los Angeles Police Department.