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Federal officials on the lookout for fake sports merch

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Federal officials display a counterfeit and a real jersey.
Federal officials display a confiscated counterfeit Vikings jersey (left) and a real one at the Bishop Henry Whipple Building in St. Paul on Tuesday.
Mukhtar Ibrahim | MPR News

Federal law enforcement officials are warning people about buying fake sports merchandise ahead of Super Bowl 52 in Minneapolis.

The agency's Operation Team Player, an annual sting to crack down on fake merchandise leading up to the Super Bowl, resulted in the seizure of hundreds of counterfeit NFL merchandise items in the Twin Cities in the past several days, said Matthew Bourke, a spokesperson for the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, a federal agency that's part of the Department of Homeland Security.

He said most of the fake merchandise comes from China.

"We know where the stuff is coming from. We know where they are going — the contraband, the jerseys," he said. "So, if you are attempting to sell any or you are trying to import it, please don't because we are going to get you."

Last year, law enforcement officials seized fake sports merchandise worth around $2 million. On average, authorities seize fake sports merchandise worth about $20 to $30 million every year, or about 250,000 fake items, according to Bourke.

On Thursday, federal officials, along with the NFL, will announce the results of the nationwide law enforcement effort aimed at combating counterfeit sports merchandise.

Some of the telltale signs of fake NFL items include jerseys without a universal product code, or U.P.C., rip-off holograms, misspelled words and poor stitching, Bourke said.

"Buyer beware. Be smart. Do your research. Use your common sense," Bourke said. "Buy from authorized retailers. If you are going online and you are searching for jerseys and you see a website that says realjerseys.com, probably you shouldn't buy from that outlet. Instead maybe buy from NFL.com or any authored retailers."