Ugg BootsAn interesting move from the Metropolitan Police’s Central e-Crime Unit (PCeU) saw the removal of 1,219 scam websites last week. Dubbed ‘Operation Papworth‘, this is believed to be the biggest single swoop of its kind in the world.

The websites are thought to have generated millions of pounds for organised criminal gangs, Scotland Yard’s Central e-crime unit said, and the victims ran the risk of identity theft for misuse elsewhere.

It is interesting to see the police working so closely with Nominet, as outlined by Lesley Cowley, chief executive of Nominet:

“We received clear instructions from the PCeU to take down the 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.”

Perhaps more interestingly, the operation has highlighted just how well versed in black hat SEO the online criminals are and reveals some fundamental flaws in Google’s ability to spot spammy / fake sites.

A good example is the (ex) site, which enjoys very high rankings for the phrase ‘Ugg boots’.

A quick look at back link data from Yahoo shows that a huge share of links are from Chinese sites and they have taken comment spam to new levels.

We always advocate the use of ethical search engine marketing techniques and it is therefore frustrating to see how effective these spammy approaches can be.

Perhaps most alarmingly is the fact that 7 out of the top 10 ranked sites (at time of testing) for ‘Ugg boots’ have been taken down – not only does this reveal the extent of the problem but also raises question marks about the freshness of Google’s index.

Of course, it would be mad to blame Google for the existence of such criminal activity but it does highlight the need for the search engine to improve its spam detection and perhaps listen more attentively to spam reports, which you can submit here.

It is excellent to see that the police are policing the web as consumers need to have confidence in the Internet. There will always be those who are prepared to use any opportunity for criminal opportunities. Acting as the biggest conduit to the Internet’s vast content, Google must acknowledge a responsibility to help police illegal activity.

How exactly it does that is quite a challenge.