The display looked like something you would see in a real store. NFL jerseys, hats, jewelry and more, attractively laid out, colors dazzling any would-be shoppers.
Except that it wasn’t a store, and all of the merchandise was counterfeit, put there by law enforcement agencies to make a point to the assembled news media.
“When fans and consumers spend their hard-earned money to purchase NFL merchandise or tickets, they deserve the real deal,” said Major Eric Garcia of the Miami-Dade Police Department.
That’s why police arrested two men on Wednesday, accusing them of making and selling counterfeit 49ers and Chiefs t-shirts at a gas station in the Brownsville area of Miami.
Every year at every Super Bowl city, fake merchandise floods the market. So several Federal agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have teamed up with local police agencies and the NFL to crack down on the fakes.
They call it Operation Team Player. They’ve arrested a total of 25 people so far.
“Between last year’s game and this year’s game, we have collectively seized over 176-thousand counterfeit items with a value of more than $120-million,” said Steve Francis of Homeland Security Investigations.
So how do you tell the difference between fake and authentic NFL gear? With hats, each one should have an NFL hologram, with a unique serial number.
With jerseys, Lamar Jackson showed us the difference between a knock-off and a real one. No, he’s not the star quarterback, he’s a federal agent.
“On the authentic jerseys, the material is really heavy, one of the easier ways to tell is the precision with which they put the numbers on, crisp and clear, if you look at the counterfeit one, on the inside you see all the excess paper here, obviously a very sloppy job,” Jackson explained.
The fakes are sometimes so good, but usually the quality of stitching is the tell-tale sign. But you might be thinking, “So what if I buy the cheaper, non-authentic jersey or hat, I don’t really care so much about quality, I’m more concerned about the price.” In that case, police say, you should know that buying counterfeit goods is not a victimless crime.
“The money generated by the sale of the fraudulent goods goes to fund criminal organizations and it directly effects the economy of the United States,” said Michael Silva of Customs and Border Protection.
The counterfeit industry funnels money into human trafficking, drug smuggling, and identity theft operations.
Another perennial problem is counterfeit game tickets.
Imagine spending thousands of dollars on tickets that turn out to be fake.
“Every year, we see fans who arrive at the stadium on game day only to be turned away at the gate because they bought counterfeit tickets,” said Michael Buchwald of the NFL.
So avoid that problem. If you’ve got the money to spend, buy tickets only from the NFL Ticket Exchange or a reputable ticket broker.