HOUSTON – Houston is awash in Super Bowl gear, and agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement are warning everyone to be on the lookout for bogus merchandise and tickets.
ICE agents, along with Houston police and Precinct 1 deputy constables, will be out in force during Super Bowl looking for counterfeiters.
“Their goal is to make a sale for you, take your money and run,” ICE Agent John Halverson said.
Halverson said the first rule of thumb is to be careful where and from whom you are buying merchandise and tickets. Halverson suggests only buying from licensed brick-and-mortar stores and websites you trust.
He also warns consumers to pay attention to the quality of the merchandise they are buying. He said licensed NFL material will be of high quality. Halverson said if the stitching is loose, the colors are faded or emblems are off-center, chances are it is counterfeit. Halverson said also be leery of T-shirts and jerseys bearing generic brand tags.
Another telltale sign for consumers is that every licensed piece of merchandise will have a unique hologram on the tag. Halverson said if there is no hologram, it’s fake.
KPRC Channel 2 Investigates came across the scenario while driving through downtown. We spotted a woman selling Super Bowl T-shirts for $25 on a street corner.
“The NFL approved this?” KPRC investigator Robert Arnold asked.
“Yeah, that's approved,” the woman said.
“Well, if the NFL approved it, where's the hologram?” Arnold asked.
“What do you mean?” the woman said.
The woman later said she wasn’t sure the merchandise was licensed by the NFL.
“Well, I didn't know, maybe -- I guess it's not,” the woman said. “OK, you're right. Well, we can get that checked.”
Buying online is another place for caution, especially since buying from a website typically involves a credit card.
“Don't be fooled by Craigslist and Facebook ads,” Halverson said. “Now you've just exposed yourself to identity theft and credit card fraud.”
That covers gear, but what about tickets?
“People really need to investigate before they outlay $3,000,” said Tony Caterina, a lecturer at the University of Houston’s Conrad Hilton College.
Caterina should know. Before he was a lecturer he was the general manager and director of operations for venues like the Hobby Center and Miami Convention Center.
“I had a guy actually try to set up in our parking lot. He had a tent,” Caterina said.
Caterina said when it comes to Super Bowl tickets, the real deal has perfectly perforated edges, a thick stock, expertly printed art work with a glossy finish and, of course, a hologram.
“Ticket scalpers or people making fake tickets will put a sticker that doesn't hologram,” Caterina said.
The chief operating officer for Ticketmaster, Amy Howe, said counterfeiters are also getting good at manipulating search engines.
“Their ability to manipulate the search algorithms with Google to potentially mislead customers is at an all-time high,” Howe said.
Howe said just because a site pops up on the first page of a Google search doesn't mean it's legitimate. She said only go to known ticket sellers.
“Look for clean, simple URLs -- NFLticketexchange.com, Ticketmaster.com -- no hyphens, no dashes,” Howe said.
Halverson further warned people who think buying a counterfeit piece of merchandise is no big deal, since it is far less expensive than the real thing. He said the knockoffs tend to fall apart quickly. Halverson said another reason is a little more sinister.
“They are taking the money you give them to fund other illegal activities,” Halverson said.
He said of the nine counterfeiters arrested during the NBA All-Star Game in Houston, all had lengthy criminal records.
In advance of the Super Bowl, the NFL has already filed temporary restraining orders and seizure orders against 100 "John Does.” These orders allow police to just add the names of those caught selling counterfeit goods to orders that are already in place.