HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — The pandemic may have shut out most of the fans, but the criminals who make big money selling the fake memorabilia are flooding Florida’s airports and seaports with shipments leading up to game day.
Here in Tampa Bay, federal agents say January brought a spike in imports of everything from counterfeit NFL masks and jerseys to championship rings.
Last year, agents with Customs and Border Protection along with Homeland Security seized illegal items valued at $123 million.
Cecelia Cintron with Customs and Border patrol says this year, most of the illegal imports are arriving at Florida’s airports from China. The destination?
“Probably to local stores and potential street vendors as well,” Cintron said.
Law enforcement has been scanning manifests looking for irregularities and using security technology, including mobile X-ray units to intercept goods before and through game day. Agents taking part in Operation Team Player have confiscated fake merchandise at ports and airports in Orlando, Miami and Tampa.
“We are out there building cases and expect to see a significant amount of criminal charges up to and leading through game day,” said Homeland Security Special Agent Bruce Passmore.
Passmore says Homeland Security will be looking for big game fakes at local flea markets and retailers as well.
“We find these all over Tampa anywhere from pop up vendors outside the stadium to flea markets to some legitimate brick and mortar stores,” Passmore said.
Investigators want consumers to know that counterfeiting often funds organized crime such as drug and human trafficking as well as terrorism.
And depending on the item, Special Agent Passmore told ABC Action News that fakes can pose a risk to your safety.
“You don’t know what chemicals were used to manufacture this,” he said.
Criminals manufacture higher quality goods than in years past, making it harder to spot phonies. So, you must know what to look for:
- Check the quality of the stitching and materials on clothing.
- True NFL merchandise contains a difficult to duplicate hologram.
Nationally, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seizes more than $4 million in various counterfeit goods every day. That’s about one million more a day than in 2019. Proof positive the pandemic has done little to shut down a criminal enterprise hoping to cash in big time on the big game.