SALT LAKE CITY — A shipment of apparently fake NFL jerseys intended for a Sandy man were central to a nationwide investigation into websites that offer cheap professional sports gear and other items.
Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement filed documents in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City in May to seize seven Internet sites through which NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NCAA team jerseys are sold. Six of the sites' registered agents are in China, one is in Malaysia.
On Thursday, federal authorities said the Salt Lake investigation is part of Project Copycat, a national ICE-led crackdown targeting websites selling a wide array of counterfeit goods, such as baby carriers, language and fitness DVD sets, clothing and jewelry. The jerseys were being sold by so-called “copycat” websites, which mimic the look of legitimate retail websites, federal officials said.
In all, the operation shut down 70 websites across the country including nflshopjerseys.com, nflshopjerseys.net and nflshop18.com. Authorities said many of the sites so closely resembled legitimate ones that it would be difficult for even discerning consumers to tell the difference.
“This operation targeted criminals making a buck by trying to trick consumers into believing they were buying name brand products from legitimate websites when in fact they were buying counterfeits from illegal but sophisticated impostor sites located overseas,” ICE director John Morton said in statement.
“The impostor sites were simply a fraud from start to finish and served no purpose other than to defraud and dupe unwary shoppers.”
Investigators also found that many of the websites had secure socket layer or SSL certificates, which duped consumers into think the sites were legitimate. The certificates provide authentication for financial information and encrypt credit card numbers, user names, passwords and other sensitive data.
"Utah is home to many innovative companies and entrepreneurs who understand the importance of protecting intellectual property,” said U.S. Attorney for Utah David B. Barlow. "These cases are also about ensuring that the goods Utahns spend their money on come from legitimate sources, and from companies that use safe materials and practice fair labor standards.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in Anchorage, Alaska, last fall intercepted a package from Shanghai, China, containing 41 NFL jerseys and one Major League Baseball jersey. The parcel was en route to a Sandy address.
An NFL intellectual property specialist examined photos of the jerseys and determined the stitching, patches and holographic stickers were knockoffs, according to court documents.
A Homeland Security agent interviewed a Sandy man who admitted to placing the order through nflshopjerseys.com but insisted he didn’t know the merchandise was counterfeit. The site offers deeply discounted authentic NFL jerseys, according to court documents.
The man provided the agent emails he had exchanged with the company and his purchase order showing he paid $18.50 for each jersey. In all, his bill came to $1,009, including shipping insurance and other fees. Court documents do not implicate the man in a crime.
The Coalition to Advance the Protection of Sports Logos also determined through a sample of five jerseys from the package that the merchandise was fake based on improper labeling, lack of authentic holograms and inferior craftsmanship. The combined value of those five jerseys alone, were they authentic, would have been $1,375, according to court records.
Authorities posted notices on the websites saying the federal government has seized them.