In the week leading up to Super Bowl 50, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, rounded up nearly 450,000 counterfeit sports-related items worth an estimated $39 million.
The raids were part of Operation Team Player, an ongoing effort developed by the HSI-led National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center) to crack down on fake sports merchandise. The IPR Center partners with major sporting leagues, such as the National Football League (NFL) to curb the illegal sale of counterfeit merchandise and tickets.
“Intellectual property theft is a serious crime,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Sarah R. Saldaña said. “The increased enforcement actions conducted over the past year not only protected consumers, but led to information investigators can use to shutdown major counterfeit distribution networks overseas and within our borders.”
HSI special agents teamed up with local law enforcement and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to track down street vendors, flea markets and retail outlets selling counterfeit goods. Fake jerseys, hats, and cell-phone accessories are just a few examples of the types of items seized.
Over the past year, Operation Team Player has resulted in 41 criminal arrests and 35 convictions.
“Counterfeit products flood the supply chain with fake and potentially dangerous items while stealing from the rightful owners of trademarks,” said CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske. “Working closely with our federal government partners and US business, CBP identifies counterfeit products at the border before they enter the stream of commerce to protect USbusinesses.”
According to David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center, a recent study from the Center revealed that innovative IP-related industries account for over 10 million jobs in the three states involved in Super Bowl 50.
When purchasing sports merchandise, Hirschman recommends that consumers stick with brands they know and trust.
“Criminals selling counterfeit goods often use big events like the Super Bowl to trick consumers into buying high-priced, low-quality fakes,” Hirschmann said. “Not only do these criminal networks rip-off consumers, they have real consequences on the American economy.”