US Immigration and Customs Enforcement nabs $20M in fake sports gear ahead of Super Bowl 51

ICE and DHS continue team effort to combat counterfeiters


Like clockwork, the week leading up to the Super Bowl has seen the federal government tear into the counterfeit sports gear element – this time seizing some $20 million worth of fake jerseys, hats, cell-phone accessories and thousands of other bogus items prepared to be sold to unsuspecting consumers.

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170202opteamplayer1 ICE/DHS

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) teams nabbed 260,000 counterfeit sports-related items during its annual, year-long Operation Team Player sting. Last year ICE 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.

“Super Bowl fans should beware of the scammers descending on Houston and flooding the internet with fake fan gear,” said David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center. “Instead of supporting their favorite teams and players, unsuspecting enthusiasts who purchase counterfeit goods could be forfeiting their personal financial information to criminal networks and undermining American jobs. For consumers, the best defense against counterfeit sellers is a good offense: only purchase known brands from known sellers that bear the official holographic marks of authenticity.”

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This year’s Operation Team Player, which saw significant increases in arrests and convictions during the year, began at the conclusion of last year’s Super Bowl. Throughout the year, the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR) led coordinated efforts with major sporting leagues to target contraband that impacts the economy, enables additional criminality and poses health and safety hazards to the public, the groups stated.

The Super Bowl counterfeit smackdown comes a year after the Department of Justice 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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