How authorities are combatting counterfeit Super Bowl gear

There's a spike in fake sports gear around the Super Bowl each year, and criminals are getting savvier and more sophisticated.
Posted at 8:37 PM, Feb 03, 2023

The Super Bowl always drums up excitement, and this year, it's the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles fans who are on a football high.

But as fans flock to snag the latest gear to support their team, law enforcement is warning to watch out for fakes and the threat they pose.

"Last year we seized nearly $100 million alone in counterfeit sports merchandise in the billions [of dollars] of all counterfeit merchandise," said Jim Mancuso, director of the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security investigations work alongside local law enforcement agencies and the NFL to collectively combat the sale of counterfeit gear and share what to look out for to ensure fans don't get duped.

"The hologram is right here, and as you reflect it in the light: Is the shield red, white and blue? Are the footballs brown?" Mancuso said while inspecting a tag. "So that's a very good indicator. Next, what we're going to do is we're going to go ahead and look at the stitching. Look at the stitching in the shield. It's a very easy way for anyone to go ahead and start determining: Does this look real or counterfeit?"

Eric McLoughlin is the deputy special agent in charge of the Homeland Security Investigations field office in Phoenix. He says if the price of an item seems to good to be true, it very often is.

Shopping online for gear poses its own challenges. Officials say to read reviews and make sure the site is reputable.

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"By going online, you're exposing yourself. You're exposing yourself to potential identity theft by giving them your personally identifiable information," Mancuso said. "If you're giving credit card or financial details, you could be the victim of financial fraud."

Not only is health a concern, as some counterfeit items can be made with dangerous chemicals, selling and buying these fake items is against the law. This also affects the economy.

"These folks are not paying taxes, so, you know, it impacts the community," said Guadalupe Ramirez, the director of field operations in Tuscon. "That's revenue that they don't have for their schools, for the roads... and it impacts the trademark, copyright or patent holder. It impacts the people that work for them." 

But ensuring the safety of tens of thousands of fans pouring in to catch the game stretches beyond finding fake gear.

Anything that seems out of the ordinary that is shipped into Phoenix airports will be run through vans with X-ray capabilities to ensure what's inside is safe and help prevent counterfeit items, including sports memorabilia, from making it into the streets. Customs and Border Protection will use heavy machinery to make sure only approved shipments are allowed to enter the stadium.

"If we find something that's not right, then we're going to stop and we're going to work with our partners on the ground to determine what the issue is and to remedy it," said Christopher Larkins, supervisor program manager with Customs and Border Protection.

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