Customs agents in the US yesterday raided 32 homes and businesses. The US ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials were searching for hardware that allows pirated video games to play on PlayStation 2, Xbox and Wii consoles.

According to the US ICE, search warrants were served in 16 states, including California, Illinois, New York and Texas, as agents looked for evidence of the importation, sale and distribution of the modification devices made overseas and smuggled into the country.

ICE did not release the names of those served with warrants, nor did it provide any details of the cases.

The so-called "mod chips" and "swap discs" targeted by the searches let gamers play pirated titles or counterfeit copies on Sony's PlayStation 2, Microsoft's Xbox and Xbox 360, and Nintendo's Wii video game machines.

"Illicit devices like the ones targeted today are created with one purpose in mind, subverting copyright protections," said Julie Myers, an assistant secretary at the US Department of Homeland Security, under which ICE operates.

"These crimes cost legitimate businesses billions of dollars annually and facilitate multiple other layers of criminality, such as smuggling, software piracy and money laundering."

The devices and software - sometimes used in combination - violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, said the agency. Estimates by the Entertainment Software Association have pegged losses due to counterfeit or pirated copies at around $3bn annually, slightly less than half the industry's almost $7bn in US revenues last year.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft, one of the vendors whose consoles have been targeted by "modders," approved of the action.

"Microsoft applauds ICE for its effort to reduce piracy and protect the intellectual property of Microsoft and its industry partners," the company said in a statement.

"This is an important step in the continuing fight against piracy and the threat it presents to the global economy and consumers throughout the world."