Feb. 1 (UPI) -- More than two dozen people were arrested and tens of millions of dollars worth of counterfeit NFL tickets and merchandise was seized since last year's Super Bowl, officials said.
The arrests and seizures were the product of a joint operation between the Department of Justice, the FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Control and the NFL called "Operation Team Player," WTOL 11 reported.
During the NFL's annual anti-counterfeit merchandise press conference held Thursday in Atlanta days before Super Bowl 53, Nick Annan, the Atlanta special agent in charge of Homeland Security, said more than 285,000 items of counterfeit goods worth some $24 million were confiscated in the last year, an increase of almost $10 million from the year before, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
United States Attorney William McSwain also announced during the conference charges against 13 individuals including conspiracy to traffic in counterfeit goods, wire fraud and aiding and betting.
"Every year, the Super Bowl unites Americans in a unique way. It's a celebration of competitive spirit, but with all the good there is an opportunity for criminals to prey on unwitting victims. Unfortunately, (the Super Bowl) attracts people looking to make a quick buck," McSwain said, ATL 53 reported.
He then warned sports fans to be cautious and be on the lookout for scams when buying sports paraphernalia and tickets
"Many fans believe that if they are not purchasing tickets, for example, from a scalper on the street, that they are safe, that it's okay to buy tickets on a third-party website because the sellers can be tracked and traced. I'm here to tell you that is not always the case," he said, adding that a majority of counterfeit sales occur via the Internet.
I was proud to represent #EDPA today at a press conference at Super Bowl LIII, in Atlanta with FBI ASAC Joe Bushner and First Deputy Chief, Bureau of Investigations, John Kitzinger, from the PA Atty. General's Office. https://t.co/SASsG05oEU. @FBIPhiladelphia @PAAttorneyGen @NFL pic.twitter.com/7GiSRY9Qcr— US Attorney William M. McSwain (@USAttyMcSwain) January 31, 2019
NFL vice president of legal affairs Dolores DiBella said at the news conference that the sale of counterfeit goods hurts legitimate business and fans.
"Protecting our fans continues to be our top priority," DiBella said.
A total 28 people including those announced Thursday have been arrested during the operation and 21 were convicted, officials said.