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Super Bowl scams can financially injure unwary 49er, Ravens fans

BBB, NFL merchants warn of phony merchandise, ticket rip-offs

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This year's Super Bowl between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers is generating dynamic storylines, but it also can generate damage to your credit lines and credit card accounts.

In fact, some credit card users already have been tackled by sophisticated Super Bowl-related scams, and experts say other rip-offs are lurking out there, poised to hit unsuspecting consumers with big losses.

One, for instance, popped up on the Internet just the other day and, as of this writing, remains in operation. It claims to be "The Official Store of the Baltimore Ravens," which it is not. One way to tell: A prominent and apparently permanent typo has the operation calling itself the "BAVENS SHOP."

BBB, NFL warn: Super Bowl scams can injure unwary 49er, Ravens fans

"It's buyer beware for counterfeit merchandise and tickets in New Orleans," said Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for NFLShop.com, the league's official merchandising operation. "If it is too good to be true, it probably is."

Along with your credit score, a lot of money is at stake. "The Super Bowl is the largest single-day event in the world," McCarthy said. "The NFL is a $9.5 billion business." About $3.3 billion of that comes from retail sales, according to research reports.

So, yes, it is that time again. The Super Bowl and the entire pro football playoff season is one of the hottest marketing periods of the year.

"We don't provide sales figures from NFLShop.com," he said. "But, yes, to the victors go the spoils. The 49ers and Ravens have become the best-selling teams, with Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, Joe Flacco being top sellers from the Ravens [and] Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore and Patrick Willis from the 49ers."

As a consequence, this championship game, with its unique charms, provides special opportunity for scam artists and poses special perils for consumers.

Three of the most worrisome dangers to the credit lines attached to your cards:

  • Buying unauthorized merchandise and phony memorabilia from bogus websites, goods that may never be delivered, though your credit card will be charged and, possibly, your credit identity will be stolen.
  • Buying fake or nonexistent game tickets, and then shouldering the costs of travel to a game that is being played inside a stadium that you can't enter.
  • Whipping out the plastic to buy a big-ticket, flat-screen TV that turns out to be a nearly discontinued model. Consumer electronics retailers say that the week leading up to the Super Bowl is the second busiest TV sales week of the year, exceeded only by the period that begins right after Thanksgiving.

In all three cases, credit card users can find that their emotions outrun their common sense.

"People are excited," said Jody Thomas, vice president of communications for the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland. "Sports fans are passionate and, so, when there's a playoff game or a Super Bowl, it's one of those once-in-a-lifetime deals. How often does your team go to the Super Bowl?"

The bureau recently discovered two sophisticated websites that claimed to be official Ravens team stores -- the "Bavens" shop and another that calls itself the "Ravens Jerseys Shop." Both offer merchandise at considerable discounts to the prices charged by the genuine Ravens online merchandise store, but credit card users who deal with the two bogus operations do so at their own risk.

If you know a jersey normally costs $100 and you see it being advertised for $60, that's a good warning sign that something isn't right. Just use your good sense. It's as simple as that.

-- Jody Thomas
Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland
The Web domain for the so-called "Ravens Jerseys Shop" was created just three months ago and is registered in China, two factors that Thomas cites as "red flags." Another leading indicator of trouble: The Better Business Bureau logo found on the bottom of that page links to ... nothing. That reassuring logo has been illicitly misappropriated.

The result is predictable. People who buy from the site almost certainly are receiving knock-offs of genuine articles -- if they receive anything at all.

"My credit card was charged $59.99, but I did not receive the product," one customer of the "Ravens Jersey Shop" told the Better Business Bureau. "I sent them a message through their website and have not heard a response."

That customer disputed the charge through his credit card company and has received a temporary credit, Thomas said. "Using a credit card was the best thing he did," she said.

But, at least theoretically, that might not be the end of it. Operations that deceptively claim to be official team stores and fail to deliver purchased goods are far more likely than other operations to harvest your credit card information and put it to fraudulent use -- a ticking time bomb for some consumers.

"With financial and identity theft of all kinds, these things go grossly underreported because people often don't know right away what has happened to them," Thomas said. "Our advice -- this is a great time of year to get that free annual credit report that everyone is entitled to."

In 2012, at least one counterfeit NFL merchandising site was put out of business and seized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. When you click on its Web address now, you find a seizure notice posted by federal officials along with a video warning consumers about the dangers of dealing with illicit retail operations.

Along with team jerseys and other clothing, sports memorabilia and Super Bowl ticket sales are areas especially ripe for abuse, experts said.

With that in mind, here are some tips from the Better Business Bureau and the NFL:

  • Use credit cards for your purchase. Not debit cards, said Thomas, "and God forbid, don't use cash or wire money." "Credit cards give you about as much protection as you can get," she said.
  • Buy official sports gear directly from the Super Bowl teams' websites or from other authorized online or brick-and-mortar retailers.
  • If you are tempted to purchase autographs or other memorabilia, check out the seller's reputation with the Better Business Bureau, ask for certificates of authenticity and research the item to determine its true market value.
  • Still in the market for a Super Bowl ticket? Be very careful. Thousands of tickets are listed on classified retailing websites, and dishonest sellers are legion. Your safest path is to buy from the NFL itself or from a well-known reputable re-seller. "NFL Ticket Exchange powered by Ticketmaster is the only secondary market site affiliated with the NFL," McCarthy said. The Better Business Bureau noted that Ticketmaster and StubHub guarantee the authenticity of tickets sold through those sites.
  • If the upcoming game motivates you to finally buy that large flat-screen TV you've had your eye on, be aware that the best deals are likely being offered on last year's holiday season leftovers. Televisions with the newest technology begin hitting stores in a month or two.

The bottom line, in every regard: Fans should not let their passions cloud their judgment to the point where they whip out their credit cards and fall for Super Bowl scams or otherwise end up with a season-ending case of buyer's remorse.

"We know that sports fans love their teams, but the fallout from this is not going to end when the game ends," Thomas said. "We're already starting to receive emails about memorabilia that people bought and now are raising suspicions.

"Just trust your common sense," she said. "If you know a jersey normally costs $100 and you see it being advertised for $60, that's a good warning sign that something isn't right. Just use your good sense. It's as simple as that."

And that applies whether you're a fan of the Bavens or the Morty-Finers.

See related: How much it costs to attend Super Bowl XLV, Susie's Super Bowl adventure: A cautionary tale;

Published: January 31, 2013


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