As soon as the clock ran down on Super Bowl Sunday, out came the preprinted commemorative T-shirts and hats. Sports memorabilia is a huge industry, but so is counterfeiting. Federal investigators seized nearly $20 million in counterfeit hats, T-shirts and other souvenirs ahead of the Super Bowl, in a yearlong effort they dubbed “Operation Team Player.”
Alan Zimmerman, a professor of international business at the City University of New York, Staten Island, says many consumers view knock-offs as a victimless crime, believing they’re taking money from rich firms and rewarding a local manufacturer instead.
But counterfeiters can often be a part of larger criminal organizations.
“Counterfeit products are just a black market revenue stream for criminal organizations, to fund their large scale activities, everything from guns, drugs, violence, you name it,” says Bryan Cox, a spokesman with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, one of the government agencies involved in Operation Team Player.
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