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Feds take down Backpage.com and charge founders with prostitution and money laundering

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feds take down Backpage.com

US authorities have closed down a classified listings website that had been repeatedly accused of facilitating sex trafficking and charged its founders with a number of prostitution and money laundering offences.

An indictment against Backpage.com creators Michael Lacey and James Larkin and five members of the website’s staff has been made public after it was taken offline and its servers seized on Friday.

Backpage.com, which is said to have raked in more than $500 million from listings linked to illegal sex work and laundered its profits through non-related businesses, had previously shut down the adult section of its US site, but critics said sex-related adverts were simply moved to other pages.

Visitors to the US version of the site are now greeted with a massage explaining that its serves have been seized as part of an enforcement action by the FBI, the US Postal Inspection Service and the IRS Criminal Investigation Division.

In a statement, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said: “For far too long, Backpage.com existed as the dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex, a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike.

“But this illegality stops right now. Last Friday, the Department of Justice seized Backpage, and it can no longer be used by criminals to promote and facilitate human trafficking.”

Campaigners and sex trafficking advocacy groups have long called for allegations that the site was routinely used to facilitate forced prostitution to be probed.

Prosecutors argue that while the site’s founders and the members of its staff who face charges were not directly involved in commercial sex exploitation, they were aware that the overwhelming majority of the listings on its sites were related to the services of prostitutes.

While some activists have welcomed the move, others have voiced concern that shutting down websites and forums such as Backpage.com could put sex workers in greater danger by removing a safe way for them to communicate with existing and potential clients.

“The shutting down of #Backpage is an absolute crisis for sex workers who rely on the site to safely get in touch with clients,” the official Twitter account for the Women’s march movement tweeted on Saturday. “Sex workers rights are women’s rights.”

Towards the end of last month, Craigslist banned personal listings after the US government introduced new legalisation making online publishers responsible for the promotion of prostitution and sex trafficking.

The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) amends the US Communications Decency Act by specifically allowing criminal and civil actions against a website if its conduct violates federal sex trafficking laws.

In a statement, Craigslist said: “US Congress just passed HR 1865, ‘FOSTA’, seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully.

“Any tool or service can be misused. We can’t take such risk without jeopardising all our other services, so we are regretfully taking Craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.”

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Hewlett Packard seizes counterfeit products worth $11 million in India as part of its global anti-fraud programme

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Hewlett Packard seizes counterfeit products

US technology giant Hewlett Packard (HP) has seized counterfeit products worth INR 80 Crores ($11.26 million) in India over the course of the past year as part of its global Anti-Counterfeiting and Fraud (ACF) programme.

Releasing information about the last 12 months of the campaign in India as part of its efforts to raise awareness of the extent of the piracy of printing supplies in the country, HP revealed that the Delhi-National Capital Region leads the nation in terms of seizure value, with confiscations worth 33.5 Crores taking place there over the past year.

Bangalore finished the year in second place with seizures of INR 22 Crores, followed by Mumbai and Chennai with 6.5 and INR 3.5 Crores, respectively.

HP worked with police across the country to carry out raids on more than 170 premises, resulting in the arrest of over 140 suspects and the seizure of completed and unfinished bogus cartridges, counterfeit packaging materials, and various sets of labels that were used during the manufacture of HP print supplies.

Noting in a statement that counterfeit print supplies can pose a significant business risk to companies that use them in the form of printer damage and associated downtime, HP said it works in close cooperation with law enforcement agencies the world over to crack down on counterfeiters that produce fake versions of its products.

Back in June, a survey commissioned by HP revealed that businesses around the world were at a greater risk of being sold fake printer supplies than ever before.

The poll, which was carried out on behalf of HP by market research firm Harris Interactive, found the availability of counterfeit printer products was being driven by an increasingly broad supplier ecosystem, a lack of certainty among buyers that their purchases were genuine, and an absence of awareness of the risks of using counterfeit goods.

The study showed that $3 billion is lost every year to counterfeit print products.

Speaking at the time, Glenn Jones, Director of HP’s ACF programme, commented: “Every one of the key market indicators we monitor show a significant increase in the risk of counterfeit print supplies.

“For companies like HP, counterfeits undermine decades of focused research and testing aimed at creating superior ink and toner, and reliable, high-quality cartridges for our customers.

“For users, fakes cause a significant increase in print failures, low page yield, poor print quality, leaks and clogs, in addition to voiding hardware warranties.”

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Woman carrying container of crystal meth inside her vagina arrested on US/Mexico border

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crystal meth inside her vagina

Customs agents working om the US/Mexico border have arrested a woman who was found to be carrying more than 22 grams of methamphetamine concealed inside her vagina.

Last Thursday afternoon, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers working at the Paso Del Norte crossing stopped a 32-year-old US woman who was attempting to cross into America on foot.

Having taken the woman to one side for additional searches, the agents used a sniffer dog to establish whether or not she was carrying any contraband.

After the dog alerted its handlers to the area below the woman’s midriff, a more detailed search revealed that she had partially concealed a cylindrical container that was holding a quantity of methamphetamine inside her vaginal cavity.

Investigators also discovered two other packages of drugs concealed about her person.

Once tests had confirmed the substance was methamphetamine, the woman was handed over to US Customs and Immigration Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations agents, who charged her with the botched smuggling attempt.

In a statement, CBP El Paso Director of Field Operations Hector Mancha said: “Homeland security is our primary mission however the vigilance and attention to detail applied by the CBP workforce routinely uncovers drug smuggling cases as well.

“Every drug load we stop helps keep our local community safe as well as those in America’s heartland.”

The seizure was one of 14 drug confiscations made by CBP agents working at ports of entry in El Paso, west Texas, last week, which included more than 405kgs of cannabis, over 16kgs of cocaine, and a total of in excess of 23kgs of methamphetamine.

Earlier this month, it was reported that border agents at Nepal’s Kathmandu Tribhuvan International Airport had arrested a man after catching him with 1kg of gold plugged inside his backside.

Chinese national Sa Luitui, 22, was asked to step to one side having alighted from a Tibet Air flight from his home country by customs workers who noticed he was walking in a peculiar fashion.

Attempting to smuggle even relatively small amounts of drugs internally can have catastrophic consequences, including serious injury and death.

Back in January 2016, Metro reported that an Iraq veteran from the UK had died after hiding a bag of cocaine inside his rectum to prevent his girlfriend from discovering he was bringing drugs into her home.

A coroner ruled that Geraint Jones, 32, died of a heart attack after the drugs were absorbed into his soft tissue.

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UK consumers warned of counterfeit toys that could cause physical harm to children

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counterfeit toys that could cause physical harm to children

The UK’s Local Government Association has warned consumers in England and Wales to be on the lookout for dangerous fake toys in the run-up to Christmas.

In a statement issued after a string of seizures of hazardous counterfeit toys over the past few weeks, the Association, which represents local councils across England and Wales, cautioned shoppers to be alert to the tell-tale signs that products aimed at children might be bogus.

Trading standards investigators in the UK recently confiscated electric scooters that came without any safety documentation, tens of thousands teddy bears that posed a choking hazard, and audio products that exceeded legal decibel limits that had the potential to cause damage to children’s hearing.

The association also warned of fake versions of L.O.L Surprise! Dolls, which were the “must-have” gift over last year’s festive period, that were found to contain phthalates, a chemical that can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive system.

Consumers should also exercise caution when looking to take advantage of last-minute offers online for products that have sold out at mainstream retailers, as these are oftentimes run by scammers who will take shoppers money and send nothing in return, the association said.

Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, commented: “Christmas is a hotbed for criminals who put profit before safety by selling dangerous, counterfeit toys at cheap prices to unsuspecting shoppers.

“Bargain hunters need to be aware that fake, substandard toys can break and cause injuries or pose choking hazards, toxic materials can cause burns and serious harm, while illegal electrical toys can lead to fires or electrocution.

“It’s not unusual for rogue sellers to cash in on desperate shoppers by selling fake versions of ‘must-have’ toys sold out in well-known retailers, or claim to have them in stock on their website when they actually don’t exist.

Much as it is for retailers the world over, the Christmas period is one of the busiest and most profitable times of year for fraudsters and counterfeiters.

At the end of November, a toy importer in Los Angeles was charged with making and possessing more than $1.4 million in counterfeit goods, including toys, backpacks and playing cards.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced that Wan Piao had been charged with seven felony counts of the infringement of intellectual property rights, affecting brands such as Pokémon, Hello Kitty, Angry Birds, Lego Ninjago, JanSport, Shopkins and Super Mario.

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