NEW ORLEANS — Investigators have confiscated more than $13.6 million worth of phony sports merchandise over the past five months, with one-quarter of it being seized at express delivery hubs at athe Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky and Louisville airports.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said authorities also have shut down more than 300 websites selling counterfeit goods as part of an enforcement effort dubbed “Operation Red Zone.” The operation targeted international shipments of jerseys, hats and other souvenirs entering the U.S. for sale by stores, flea markets and street vendors.
Customs and Border Protection raids at the DHL hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron and the UPS hub at the Louisville International Airport took in more than $3.4 million in counterfeit items, including Super Bowl jerseys.
“CBP officers at the DHL and UPS express consignment facilities have seized more than 60,000 counterfeit items over the past nine days during this intellectual property enforcement operation,” said William A. Ferrara, CBP Acting Director of Field Operations in Chicago, said in a statement Tuesday. “This counterfeit merchandise hurts consumers by being substandard and it hurts the U.S. economy as well. Also federal investigations have shown that some of these counterfeiting organizations are linked to other criminal enterprises.”
And evidence has cropped up that even the Mexican drug cartels are getting involved in the counterfeit NFL black market trade because they can make quick money by selling fake jerseys in flea markets and parking lots, said Kevin Abar, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New Mexico.
More than 160,000 counterfeit items, mostly purporting to be official Super Bowl and other NFL merchandise, were seized during “Operation Red Zone.” A total of 23 people have been arrested on related charges since September 2012.
This is the fifth consecutive year that federal authorities have launched a similar operation to crack down on the sale of counterfeit sports goods. Roughly $5.1 million in goods were seized during the previous one, Morton said.
“This is the largest number we’ve ever seized,” Morton said.
Morton said copycat websites selling bogus merchandise have become increasingly sophisticated in their efforts to dupe customers into believing they’re purchasing licensed, official sportswear.
“The prices are not ridiculously low. They’re just discounted enough to fool the consumer,” he added.
Here are a few ways one can compare an authentic NFL jersey to a counterfeit:
• Licensed jerseys and merchandise all come with an NFL hologram logo that changes colors as you move it.
• Authentic jerseys all have tags on the back neck and do not have cardboard behind numbers.
• Authentic jerseys are hard to rip, the Nike logo is fully stitched on it and it typically doesn’t have loose threads.
• New players who begin playing regularly in midseason, like San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, don’t have regular authentic NFL jerseys. It takes months for stores to order and receive them. Stores that sell licensed merchadise may have limited edition Kaepernick Super Bowl jerseys.
• Team names are spelled correctly.