Shop wisely when looking for those Super Bowl souvenirs.
Federal officials have seized more than 163,000 counterfeit items worth more than $13.6 million over the last five months as part of Operation Red Zone, John Morton, director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, said. That's a "significant" increase from last year, when about $5 million worth of merchandise was seized.
"Everything from hats to jerseys to Nike shoes. My personal favorite is this counterfeit Super Bowl ring from Super Bowl XLIV," Morton said, holding up a massive gold ring. "It's actually quite heavy and a better counterfeit than most. Just goes to show you the lengths people will go in this business."
Equally troubling are websites selling counterfeit merchandise, some so sophisticated they include anti-virus logos and the seal of the Better Business Bureau — making them almost impossible to tell them apart from legitimate vendors.
Morton said federal officials have already seized domain names of 313 web sites, almost all of which originated overseas.
"Imagine what's going on when you're putting your credit card through this site. Really think about that," Morton said. "The site is being run by overseas criminals in Asia.... You can imagine what the result is, and sadly many, many of these sites come with malware and other unfortunate ornaments on the Christmas tree."
The easiest way to make sure fans are buying legitimate merchandise is to buy from an official vendor, Morton said. Each team has one, as does the NFL.
But the best way fans can prevent being scammed is to use common sense, Morton said. Look closely at items, and there will be signs they're fakes. If there are extra words in a website address — com.us — or misspellings, that's almost always a dead giveaway.
"We're not letting up," Morton said. "We'll have teams out the next couple of days looking for counterfeit and scam artists."
— Nancy Armour — http://twitter.com/nrarmour
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