WASHINGTON — Federal officials announced Thursday that they have seized more than $21.6 million in counterfeit NFL and other sports merchandise during a special operation leading up to this Sunday’s Super Bowl.
They’ve made 50 arrests.Nationwide raids, including at California seaports and New Jersey flea markets, uncovered boxes and boxes of fake Denver Broncos jerseys and Seattle Seahawks ball caps, along with paraphernalia for other teams, made to look as if they were officially endorsed by the National Football League.
The government’s cyber sleuths seized domain names of 163 websites that trafficked in counterfeit sports goods. Another 5,200 websites that sold phony goods were identified with the NFL’s help.
The acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Sandweg, said consumers were being duped into buying fake memorabilia — from obvious knockoffs to something that might look even better than the real thing — particularly when searching for goods online.
“I was joking with the guys this morning that if you look at the fake website compared to the Broncos’ real website, the fake one actually even looks better,” he said.
The NFL coordinated with agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, and the Postal Inspection Service in the effort, dubbed Operation Team Player.
Anastasia Danias, the NFL’s chief litigation officer, warned fans Thursday to be careful when buying tickets and souvenirs.
Danias said hundreds of people are turned away from the Super Bowl each year after buying counterfeit tickets. And duped fans have no recourse, she said.
The sports counterfeiting is only a small part of a multi-billion-dollar industry that’s a growing problem for Americans and the U.S. economy, Sandweg said. An estimated 90 percent of fake products are made in China.
As technology has advanced, so has the ease of replicating more products, such as pharmaceuticals and industrial equipment. Fake iPhone chargers were found to catch fire easily.