Buyer Beware: Feds warn counterfeit sports gear sales could be on the rise

Homeland Security Investigations: big events like Detroit Tigers playoffs, high profile games can bring out counterfeiters

DETROIT - Federal investigators warn metro Detroiters to know what they're buying when they purchase sports gear for their favorite teams.

William Hayes, acting special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in metro Detroit told Local 4 there could be more incidents of counterfeit goods being sold right now.

"Anytime there is a big event such as the championship series, high profile football games etc., counterfeiters are typically out there selling their wears and again depriving the legitimate owner of the profits that they're entitled to," said Hayes.

Steve Thomas, the owner of Detroit Athletic Co. in downtown Detroit, likes the buzz in the city with the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs.  While it can mean good business for him, he knows there is competition out there trying to undercut him.

"It's always frustrating when there's special events because there is, there seems to be just a circuit of people that kind of follow the big events like the World Series or the Super Bowl and it definitely takes a bite out of our sales," said Thomas.

Hayes wants counterfeit crooks to know his agents will be watching for them.

"It is a relatively high profit crime and a low risk, however we would tell any would be counterfeiters out there, that we are out there, we will be watching and we will be actively engaged in looking for this merchandise," said Hayes.

The crime is called Intellectual property rights violations.   Crooks counterfeit everything from perfume to guns, and holiday lights to purses, however sports gear is a big part of their illegal activity according to Homeland Security Investigations.

The knock-offs can be hard to spot, but Hayes said two red flags can be the price and where the products are being sold.  He said if the price is too good to be true, it's probably counterfeit and if someone is selling out of the trunk of their car or a duffel bag in a parking lot, it could be fake.

Hayes recommends people always buy from reputable, legitimate, licensed retailers.

Thomas showed Local 4 what to look for on the sports gear to help determine it's legitimate.

"Usually the first thing to look for is the official brand of the manufacturer or the licensee of Major League Baseball," said Thomas while showing Local 4 a Miguel Cabrera T-shirt made by Majestic.  "In this case it would be Majestic.  Their logo appears on the actual design.  Also in the neck label, usually it's a neck label or it's printed on the shirt. In addition to that, they usually require hang tags that come from Major League Baseball, so it shows that it's genuine merchandise and it includes an official hologram from Major League Baseball as well."

Sales of counterfeit goods can have a ripple effect in the economy by hurting legitimate businesses and possibly leading to job loss.

Thomas admits counterfeit sports gear can affect his business but there are steps in place to help.

"The Leagues are pretty good about cracking down on it and enforcing their own policies, and for the most part, I don't think it affects us too much," said Thomas.

He also recommends that people realize they get what they pay for.

"I would say it's always better to buy legitimate merchandise and if for no other reason than it's better quality and that it's guaranteed by the retailer or the manufacturer," said Thomas.

Hayes said people should report to ICE if they see anyone selling counterfeit goods.  

You can do so by call (866)-DHS-2-ICE (866-347-2423.)   For more information on the Homeland Security Investigations Tip Line, click here.

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