WGNO (New Orleans) – Homeland Security Investigations New Orleans is reminding sports fans to be aware of purchasing counterfeit sports merchandise ahead of Monday night’s championship game.

“Large sporting events, such as the NCAA playoffs, are prime targets for individuals who are truly savvy,” explained Sarah Loicano, the public affairs officer for HSI New Orleans. “They often set up fake websites or ecommerce marketplaces with the full intent of scamming sports fans whether it’s through tickets.”

According to Loicano, counterfeit items can pose serious risks to public health and safety.

“Counterfeit items are often produced illegally to fund criminal activities, such as forced labor, human trafficking, and that makes these production and trafficking of counterfeit goods a transactional crime,” said Loicano.

The HSI spokeswoman says there are signs you can look for when determining the authenticity of your merchandise.

“So, ripped stitching or sloppy stitching, irregular markings. Sometimes, even when you’re out on the street and you may be shopping before/after the game, sometimes you can still feel the warmth from a printing press on some of these items,” said Loicano.

HSI New Orleans is encouraging people to use common sense before purchasing.

“The message is simple. Purchase from reputable dealers. Be cautious when shopping online,” said Loicano. “Check your bank statements afterward to make sure that the charge that you spent matches what’s actually showing up on your card. And if a deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is.”

Here are some more tips from HSI New Orleans:

• Only shop at authorized retail locations, such as the official team stores, rather than buying items from street vendors, flea markets, online auctions, or other questionable sources.

• When purchasing merchandise online, please be aware that criminals often use legitimate product photos on their websites despite selling a fraudulent product. We advise consumers not to buy expensive items from third party websites.

• Only buy event tickets and or collectibles (such as customized NFTs) from authorized dealers. Buying online from a non-NCAA affiliate may be risky since there is no way of knowing if a re-sell digital ticket is real until game time. Even if a ticket looks real, it may be one that has been reported lost or stolen, which means the person holding it will not be granted entry into the stadium.

• If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. While some counterfeiters may attract fans with a low-price tag or 2-for-1 deal, just as many try to legitimize their merchandise with a higher price point.

• Look out for ripped tags, poor quality, sloppy stitching, or irregular markings on apparel. • Check your statements. Keep a record of your purchases and copies of confirmation pages and compare them to your bank statements. If there is a discrepancy, report it immediately.