Feds grab $39M worth of fake sports gear ahead of NFL Super Bowl 50

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes on sports fake paraphernalia dealers

In its annual Super Bowl-timed crackdown on counterfeit sports gear – everything from fake hats to shirts-- the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency said it had seized nearly 450,000 phony items worth an estimated $39 million. In 2014 it grabbed 326,147 phony items worth more than $19.5 million – so the problem isn’t getting any smaller.

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The crackdown, known as Operation Team Player, began at the conclusion of last year’s Super Bowl, also resulted in 41 criminal arrests and 35 convictions, ICE stated.

Special agents from Homeland Security teamed with local law enforcement to identify flea markets, retail outlets and street vendors selling counterfeit goods during the week leading up to Super Bowl 50. They seized fake jerseys, hats, cell-phone accessories and thousands of other bogus items prepared to be sold to unsuspecting consumers, ICE stated.

“Intellectual property theft is a serious crime,” Director Saldaña said. “The increased enforcement actions conducted over the past year not only protected consumers, but led to information investigators can use to shutdown major counterfeit distribution networks overseas and within our borders.”

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The Super Bowl counterfeit smackdown this year comes after the Department of Justice in January announced a new strategy to work more closely with businesses in an effort to fight all types of intellectual property thefts. There’s a particular focus on working with online entities such as third-party marketplaces, payment service providers, and advertisers.

According to the FBI:

  • Third-party online marketplaces draw consumers to their sites with competitive pricing and a sense of security, but criminal counterfeiters exploit these marketplaces to gain an appearance of legitimacy, access to far-reaching advertising, and efficient sales transactions.
  • Payment service providers—such as credit card payment processors and related payment alternatives—also give counterfeiters the appearance of legitimacy when they provide payment options that consumers mistakenly interpret to mean that the businesses they service are legitimate.
  • Online advertising systems and platforms enable website owners to outsource the process of monetizing their website traffic. Criminals have begun exploiting advertising as an alternative revenue stream, drawing traffic to their sites by offering counterfeit products for sale or pirated digital content for download.

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