WASHINGTON -- Federal officials announced Thursday that they have seized more than $21.6 million in counterfeit NFL and other sports merchandise during a special operation leading up to this Sunday's Super Bowl.
Nationwide raids, including at California seaports and New Jersey flea markets, uncovered boxes and boxes of fake Denver Broncos jerseys and Seattle Seahawks ball caps -- along with paraphernalia for other teams -- made to look as if they were officially endorsed by the National Football League.
The government's cyber sleuths seized the domain names of 163 websites that trafficked in counterfeit sports goods. Another 5,200 websites that sold phony goods were identified with the help of the NFL.
The acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, John Sandweg, said consumers were being duped into buying fake memorabilia -- from obvious knockoffs to something that might look even better than the real thing -- particularly when searching for goods online.
"I was joking with the guys this morning that if you look at the fake website compared to the Broncos' real website, the fake one actually even looks better," he said.
The NFL coordinated with agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, and the Postal Inspection Service in the effort, dubbed Operation Team Player.
The sports counterfeiting is only a small part of a multi-billion-dollar industry that's a growing problem for Americans and the U.S. economy, Sandweg said. An estimated 90 percent of fake products are made in China.
As technology has advanced, so has the ease of replicating more products, such as pharmaceuticals and industrial equipment. Fake iPhone chargers were found to catch fire easily. A North Carolina man was sentenced last year to seven years in prison for selling thousands of counterfeit automobile airbags on eBay.
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