U.S. Homeland Security officials say the flow of counterfeit goods into the United States is on the rise, and is especially a problem ahead of big sporting events, such as Sunday's Super Bowl. But federal agents are striking back. They recently seized more $6 million in merchandise and shut down more than 300 illegal websites as part of "Operation Fake Sweep”.
To the untrained eye, merchandise in this Fort Wayne Indiana sporting goods store seems legitimate.
But for federal agents looking for counterfeits, this was a jackpot.
Agents carted away box after box, many of them filled with fake football jerseys.
National Football League attorney Anastasia Danias says such counterfeits cost her organizations millions of dollars. “Last year alone we saw upwards of $14 million in counterfeit merchandise that was seized. That's just the merchandise that was seized. It doesn’t account for the merchandise that was sold to unsuspecting consumers,” she explained.
Much of the effort to intercept fake items occurs in transit.
At the International Mail Facility at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, Agents like Brian Henke with U.S. Customs and Border Protection scan incoming parcels that look suspicious. “Some of this stuff is easier to catch than others. Some of this stuff is caught simply by just looking at it and noticing that a logo, maybe New York Giants, the Giants is misspelled," he noted. "The colors could be off.”
Henke says Customs agents often see an increase in counterfeits around major sporting events, such as the Super Bowl. "These will show up on the street with street vendors, people you normally see outside the stadium, maybe a flea market or a swap meet. They may not go for the full $80, they may go for a $50, $40, maybe half price to undercut a street or regular shop,” he said.
Officials say the best way to curb the counterfeit business is to encourage consumers to purchase licensed merchandise at reputable stores, like the NFL Shop here at the NFL Experience. Shoppers should look out for certain security features only licensed merchandise has, such as holograms on sales tags, and detailed stitching on logos.
“Moral of the story is buyer beware,” Henke warned.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton says most counterfeit items come from Asia. “We have a number of very successful cases that we’ve done with the Chinese, but there is a lot more we can do,” he stated.
There is a saying, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.” Federal agents say that’s a good approach for consumers with any questions about the merchandise they are buying.