Federal investigators in Salt Lake City shut down more than 30 Web domains Thursday found to be selling fake NFL merchandise just days shy of Super Bowl Sunday.
Local agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations seized dozens of phony websites as part of a nationwide initiative known as "Operation Red Zone." The operation targets international shipments of counterfeit football merchandise as they enter the United States. Scammers who manufacture fake football jerseys and other sports accessories overseas try to sell their goods to unwitting customers looking to buy official NFL merchandise for the big game, according to ICE director John Morton.
"The Super Bowl is one of the nation's most exciting events," Morton said in a statement Thursday. "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."
Besides leaving football fans with a subpar product, such scams undermine the economy and fuel crime overseas, Morton added.
The sites seized by Salt Lake City agents Thursday included domains such as nflnike49ersjerseyshop.us. Anyone who visits that domain now will only find a page with an official federal seal informing them that the site has been seized. Screen shots of the sites released before Thursday's seizure show that the sites did a rather convincing job of looking like the official shopping sites for the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens, the two teams headed to this year's Super Bowl.
Federal agents have worked with various NFL teams to identify illegal shipments into the U.S., as well as stores and vendors selling counterfeit items. Since Sept. 1, 2012, more than 160,000 fake items worth more than $13.6 million have been seized. Since then, federal and local officials have also made more than 20 arrests and seized more than 300 websites.