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Intellectual Property Rights
06/11/2013

ICE, CBP warn consumers about counterfeit sports merchandise during NBA and NHL playoffs

WASHINGTON — With the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Playoffs in full swing, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) warned the public Tuesday to beware of purchasing counterfeit sports apparel and tickets to playoff games.

Fake jerseys, ball caps, t-shirts, jackets and other souvenirs are among the counterfeit merchandise and clothing typically sold at these events. Additionally, authorities have seen an increase in the sale of counterfeit tickets being sold to these events. Large sporting events such as the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Playoffs are prime targets for counterfeiters, many of whom travel the country with the sole intention of scamming innocent sports fans. According to the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition, businesses worldwide lose an estimated $600 - 700 billion annually due to counterfeiting.

"The playoffs for these two leagues are meant to be a chance to celebrate the success of our favorite sports teams," said Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Coordination Center Director Lev Kubiak. "Instead, organized criminals are preying on that excitement, ripping consumers off with counterfeit merchandise and stealing from the American businesses who have worked hard to build a trusted brand."

"CBP remains ever vigilant in targeting, identifying and seizing shipments of counterfeit sports merchandise, including nearly $27 million worth seized in fiscal year 2012," said Assistant Commissioner Allen Gina. "CBP works closely with our partners in ICE HSI to ensure violations of intellectual and property law are investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

HSI and CBP regularly team up with other federal agencies and state and local law enforcement during significant sporting events like the playoffs. Operation Red Zone targeted counterfeit products surrounding NFL games between September 2012 and February 2013. The operation netted 196,333 items including fake jerseys, ball caps, t-shirts, jackets and other souvenirs. The items had a manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) of more than $17.3 million. Special agents from HSI, CBP, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and state and local police departments around the country worked in partnership with the NFL and other major sports leagues during the operation. In all, 168 tickets were seized with an MSRP of more than $154,000. Forty-one individuals were arrested nationwide during the operation, six on federal charges and 35 on state and local charges.

Although counterfeiters are becoming smarter, fans can keep several key factors in mind when making purchases to avoid being victimized:

  • Shop at authorized retail locations, such as the official team stores rather than buying items from street vendors, flea markets, online auctions or other questionable sources
  • Look out for ripped tags or irregular markings on apparel
  • If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. However, while some counterfeiters may attract fans with a low price tag or two-for-one deal, just as many try to legitimize their merchandise with a higher price point. Purchasing merchandise from authorized dealers helps guarantee the product and provides a reputable source for concerns, returns, and exchanges.

Intellectual and Property Rights enforcement is a priority trade issue for CBP. CBP protects businesses and consumers every day through an aggressive IPR enforcement program. CBP targets and seizes imports of counterfeit and pirated goods, and enforces exclusion orders on patent-infringing and other goods that violate IPR laws.

The HSI-led IPR Center is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. Working in close coordination with the Department of Justice Task Force on Intellectual Property, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 21 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions and conduct investigations related to intellectual property theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety and the U.S. economy.

To report IP theft or to learn more about the IPR Center, visit www.IPRCenter.gov.