Five tips to protect yourself when buying counterfeit sports jerseys

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It’s the dead of winter, but exciting times are ahead for fans of regional sports teams. 

Maybe you want to usher in a new St. Louis Cardinals season with a jersey. The St. Louis BattleHawks of the XFL are back. Don’t forget the region’s newest Major League Soccer team, STL City. BattleHawks or City gear would be perfect for the St. Louis sports fan.

Wouldn’t it be frustrating if you spent some of your hard-earned cash on some new gear for your favorite team only to have it turn out to be some cheap knockoff? Even worse, what if you never receive the item?

Counterfeit goods constitute a massive worldwide industry. A multi-layered enforcement effort called “Operation Team Player” took more than 267,000 counterfeit sports-related items off the market last year worth an estimated $97.8 million, according to a news release by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office.

Online purchase scams continue to be the No. 1 reported scam to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker. Clothing, cosmetics and electronics are routinely among the most-reported items purchased in the Scam Tracker reports. 

According to BBB’s latest Scam Tracker Risk Report, consumers reported a median loss of $101 to online purchase scams. That can represent a significant luxury purchase or even a special gift that falls well short of expectations.

A ScamTracker report filed by a Carlinville, Ill., woman in March 2022 is typical of many online purchase scams.

“I attempted to purchase a sports jersey for my son’s birthday gift,” the woman wrote. “I paid for it and was given an email with a tracking number once it was ‘shipped.’ When I looked up the tracking number, the product could not be located. Phone numbers on the website allow you to leave a message but I’ve not received a return phone call. I was scammed.”

The woman lost $64 and her son was left without that birthday gift.

To protect yourself from buying counterfeit goods, follow these tips:

  • Know your seller. Try to shop at a brand’s own store or website or at an authorized dealer for the product. Ensure that any website you’re shopping is legitimate: Hover over links, make sure spelling and grammar is professional and double-check the URL and logo. It is easy for scammers to create a fake website imitating a brand in an attempt to lure consumers.
  • Avoid deals that are too good to be true. If you see an ad for something at an alarmingly low price, be careful. Large discounts could signal a counterfeit item. Don’t click on ads you see online or follow links in unsolicited emails. 
  • Beware the online marketplace. When you purchase goods from online marketplaces, you don’t have the opportunity to inspect the item before buying it. This increases the odds of it being counterfeit. If possible, inspect the item in person, and take it to an expert if it’s a big-ticket item like art or jewelry.
  • Make sure it is licensed. When buying sports merchandise, find authentic licensed goods from official retailers and resellers on the official website of your favorite team or league. Authentic apparel will always have the correct fonts, colors and spelling, attached tags will usually have hologram stickers, and there won’t be any loose threads or other signs of poor quality.
  • Report it. If you believe you have purchased counterfeit goods, do not resell the item. You are legally entitled to a refund or legitimate version, no matter what the seller’s return policy is. Also file complaints with BBB, the state attorney general, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. If you believe you have found counterfeit merchandise online, report it to the FBI Internet Fraud Complaint Center.

Don O’Brien is the regional director for the Quincy Better Business Bureau. Contact him at dobrien@quincybbb.org or (217) 209-3972.

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