Beware Super Bowl fans: Those of you in Miami this weekend for the big game between the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints may be ripped off by vendors selling counterfeit NFL merchandise and knock-off items adorned with fake Saints and Colts logos.
That's the warning from the International Trademark Association (INTA), which is encouraging consumers to watch out for the fake merchandise as one of the biggest days in sports approaches.
"These counterfeiters know they're going to have a captive audience looking for items," said INTA spokesman Matthew Schmidt, adding that big sports events like the Super Bowl draw crowds of the illegal sellers. "They're going to be out in full force."
Fans should be wary of the "ubiquitous white van" that pulls up in a parking lot and unloads a card table and makeshift boxes of Super Bowl apparel and merchandise, Schmidt said.
These are the items most likely being made illegally in basements or the back of a truck somewhere, according to INTA. Vendors, the group says, typically target parking areas and other high-traffic fan venues.
U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement (ICE) special agents have been targeting illegal vendors in Miami as part of their "Operation Faux Bowl" over the past month. More than 1,600 items of fake memorabilia for a total of $155,479 had been seized this week, with agents continue to scour local streets, stores and flea markets this weekend.
"This unprecedented playing of the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl in the same week in the same city has been a magnet for the criminals who steal trademarks and knock off trusted brands to sell their substandard wares," ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton said this week when announcing his team's results to date.
At least year's Super Bowl in Tampa, ICE agents seized 15,653 counterfeit items worth $1,826,562. At the 2008 Super Bowl in Phoenix, they seized 10,212 items worth $542,120.
Counterfeit items can usually be spotted by looking out for a few main characteristics: irregular stitching, uneven or off coloring, awkward-looking logos or no logo, misspelling, and prices that seem too good to be true.
Whereas an official NFL jersey can cost anywhere from $50 to $100, fake versions of much lower quality often sell on the street for as low as $10, Schmidt said.
And besides the lower quality, INTA warns these fake goods promote illegal activity that detracts from legitimate manufacturers.
"When you buy something fake you're taking away from the men and women who put in an honest days work and from companies that abide by labor laws," said Schmidt. "It's a shame."
Morton, whose team in Miami has so far confiscated mostly knock-off jerseys, hats, t-shirts and shoes claiming to be NFL merchandise, is working to spread the same message. "Counterfeiting hurts the consumer, it hurts business and it costs American jobs," he said.