Investigators warn fans to watch out for fake Final Four gear

Before you buy a hat or jersey to commemorate the Final Four, law officers warn you to watch out for fakes. They say fraudulent gear vendors are growing, and ripping off sports fans.

Homeland Security investigators urge you to watch out for a growing amount of fake sports memorabilia being sold both online and outside events like the Big Dance.

"It’s actually a pretty good counterfeit. If you touch the fabric the stitching is good. There’s a very minor tag here, there are no washing directions, there's no NCAA or corporate logo," said Assistant Special Agent in Charge at Homeland Security Investigations Houston Bruce Swartley, showing us a knock-off cap.

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Swartley wants you to know what to look out for. Homeland Securities Investigations Houston is partnering with Houston Police to crack down, after seeing a growing number of fakes.

"We’re seeing both importation increases as well as vendors that come for this kind of events that sell ad hock at and around the event," said Swartley.

From February 2022 to February 2023, HSI and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol seized 180,000 counterfeit sports items across the country.  If sold on the open market for the estimated manufacturer-suggested retail prices, they would have netted $22.7 million. Instead, there were 75 arrests, 16 indictments, and 11 convictions.

"In this case, this is something someone must have thrown together," said Swartley, showing us a fake Penn State scarf.  "There is no tag whatsoever. You can see Penn State here, so they’re just using the rights holder's insignia on it.  There’s nothing else to it, there’s no tag, no washing directions."  

While you can lose hundreds of dollars buying fake gear, it also hurts sales for the licensed vendors and the jobs they support. And fake sales often raise money to fund bigger crimes.

"The same organization that you think might is a mom-and-pop organization, just selling some extra tee shirts, the money is actually going up through the organization," said Swartley. "We had one that was used to fund cocaine smuggling."

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You'll find the fakes being sold both outside the venues and online. They may use real gear pictures and they're getting harder to spot.

Here are steps to protect yourself:

  • Buy tickets and gear through authorized dealers, rather than street vendors or at flea markets. 
  • Look for poor stitching, flimsy fabrics, or no official tags. 
  • And if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Fake gear can be reported to local police and the IPRC website.

Perpetrators can face up to 10 years in prison.