By Scott Malone
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Phony NFL merchandise and tickets worth $21.6 million have been seized and 50 people arrested in a crackdown on counterfeiting ahead of this weekend's Super Bowl, U.S. law enforcement officials said on Thursday.
Standing beside stacks of knock-off Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks jerseys and sweatshirts they said had been seized mostly at U.S. ports, officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as the National Football League warned that bogus tickets are also a particular threat for fans.
"You might be spending thousands of dollars on counterfeit tickets that will never get you into the stadium on game day," said Anastasia Danias, chief litigation officer for the league. "Every year hundreds of fans are turned away at the gates."
John Sandweg, acting director of ICE told reporters the merchandise seizures, which he said were the largest ever recovered in an anti-counterfeiting sweep, were the result of a seven-month investigation.
"We are not letting up, we will continue to work through the next few days to take down the counterfeiters and scam artists," Sandweg said.
People who buy fake NFL merchandise online, often in an effort to find lower prices, run the risk of having their credit card number stolen and used in other transactions, Sandweg warned.
"What we're dealing with here are criminal organizations who are not only going to be committing this particular crime. But when they have the identifying information of the consumer, we have seen instances where they have taken advantage of that data," Sandweg said.
Danias, of the NFL, cautioned fans against buying tickets for cash on the street, warning that even authentic looking fakes could lack information that will be used to identify legitimate tickets by staff at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, where the game will be played.
Ticket brokers have reported that the valid Super Bowl ticket prices have fallen in recent weeks as fewer hometown fans from Denver and Seattle appeared ready to make the long trip to New York while earlier forecasts for cold weather may have soured even some locals on the idea.
Current weather forecasts call for a low of 26 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-3 Celsius) the night of the game, seasonable for the New York area in January.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; editing by Gunna Dickson)