Law enforcement seized more than 180,000 items of counterfeit sports merchandise last year. Photo courtesy of National IPR Center/Twitter
Feb. 9 (UPI) -- With Super Bowl LVII days away, law enforcement announced the seizure of more than 180,000 items of counterfeit sports merchandise, while warning the public to shop with reputable dealers.
The National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center announced the results of Operation Team Player, an annual law enforcement initiative, during a press conference Wednesday with a selection of the seized football goods on display.
James Mancuso, IPR Center director, said the value of the counterfeit sports merchandise seized over the past year was worth nearly $23 million.
The amount and value seized is a significant drop from the more than 250,000 counterfeit items seized during last year's crack down, which was worth about $97.8 million.
However, Mancuso said that in connection to their investigations in the past 12 months, the initiative has netted 66 arrests, which he described as being "a significant increase" over previous years.
"Whether it's a fan spending their hard-earned money on a jersey, which they believe to be authentic, or a legitimate store losing business to a competitor selling cheap knockoffs, intellectual property theft is a real crime with real victims and devastating financial impacts," he said.
Bonnie Jarrett, senior counsel at the NFL, added that with the growth on e-commerce, criminals have gravitated online as well, and a football fan can potentially not only become a victim of buying illegal merchandise but also have their financial information stolen.
Over the last year, she said, the NFL has enforced actions against hundreds of thousands of counterfeit e-commerce listings, ads, sites and sellers.
"Counterfeiting crimes don't only prey on the fans, they also hurt the Arizona businesses, legitimate retailers and the licensees who support the local economy and play by the rules," she said.
"Protecting NFL fans continues to be a top priority during this week's Super Bowl events just has it's been year round."
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is encouraging the public to only shop at trusted retailers and retail locations, be cautious when shopping online, check your online bank statements and look for signs of counterfeit, such as ripped tags, poor quality, sloppy stitching or irregular markings on apparel.
When it comes to event tickets, they should only be purchased from established and trusted sources, it said, while reminding the public that tickets for Super Bowl LVII will be all digital and require the use of specific apps.
"Our message to NFL fans is simple: Watch out for criminals who are looking to scam consumers and illegally profit off the popularity of the NFL, your favorite team and the Super Bowl," Jarrett said.
Operation Team Player was initiated in June 2013.
The Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles are set to square off on Sunday in Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.