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Counterfeit Seizures Exposed the Darker Side of Super Bowl 50

Release Date: 
February 12, 2016

The Super Bowl scammers were at it again—as they are every year. Some were street vendors, flea market merchants and internet hawkers. Others were warehouse operators and retail dealers. What they all shared was an inventory of fake Super Bowl paraphernalia, designed to fool all but the most discerning consumers.

Convincing but not authentic, these Super Bowl hats are fake. Photo Credit: Glenn Fawcett

Convincing but not authentic, these Super Bowl hats are fake. Photo Credit: Glenn Fawcett

They’re jerseys, caps, rings and the like: just about any apparel and souvenir sporting team colors, numbers and the Super Bowl 50 logo. Some savvy swindlers even printed bogus tickets, compelling the NFL to fight back by printing tickets with protections that rival modern currency.

But CBP officers, working with other law enforcement partners weren’t fooled. They confiscated a bonanza of phony Super Bowl goods being sold as the official thing. The federal team, working with police in San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland, displayed the stockpile at a news conference at San Francisco’s Moscone Center.

The display was just a small part of the 450,000 netted counterfeit sports items worth an estimated $39 million. “This is a rip-off for local business owners who play by the rules,” said Dolores DiBella, an NFL attorney. In addition, she noted the NFL seized about 1,300 websites selling the merchandise. This year 41 merchants were arrested.

“What’s the big deal?” Brian Humphrey, CBP’s director of field operations in San Francisco, rhetorically remarked. “This potentially funds criminal organizations. And the quality is poor: “If the product is electrical, it could pose a fire hazard. That jersey won’t last long.”

Tracing the source of the fake goods can be difficult, said Humphrey, because shipments are purposely routed through several countries. “China is the worst offender,” he noted.

Certain giveaways can reveal phony merchandise. For example, hats with a poor quality NFL hologram; a shirt that lacks the hologram; or NFL logos attached with mismatched stitching. Sometimes the price is too good to be true. On display were hefty gold Super Bowl rings, supposedly diamond studded. Street price: just $100, according to NFL’s DiBella.

All that sparkles isn’t gold, especially these fake Super Bowl rings and chain touted as gold. Photo Credit: Glenn Fawcett

All that sparkles isn’t gold, especially these fake Super Bowl rings and chain touted as gold. Photo Credit: Glenn Fawcett

Perhaps the brashest fakery were counterfeit Super Bowl tickets. At Super Bowl 50, one ticket could fetch as much as $25,000, making the strip of paper worth more than moon rocks. To defeat the fakes, the NFL built some fail safe measures into their tickets. The real tickets sport NFL logo holograms made with heat sensitive ink. When the hologram is rubbed it disappears. As it cools, the logo returns. Other ticket images are visible only under black light.

To foil counterfeiters, fans could only get into Sunday’s game with paper tickets, no electronic or PDF tickets were accepted.

While the Super Bowl’s huge presence draws the scammers, it’s just one episode. Phony brand name shoes are a big problem, Humphrey explained. “CBP’s Operation Super Fake seized $432,000 in counterfeit footwear,” and $2.1 million in overall fake merchandise.

However, shoes and phony sports-related merchandise “are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Bruce Foucart, who directs the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center in Arlington, Virginia. “On any given day, HSI [Homeland Security Investigations] agents in the field and CBP officers stationed at ports are seizing counterfeit pharmaceuticals, automotive parts and electronics that present a significant health and safety threat to the public.”

A clampdown ahead of Super Bowl 50 in the San Francisco Bay area, he noted, led to the seizure of 22,500 items with an estimated value of $900,000.

“With assistance from CBP, industry and local law enforcement, we protected consumers and the local economy,” said Foucart .

Last modified: 
February 8, 2017