Don't be taken by counterfeits: Passion for your team can hit you hard in the wallet

Sports memorabilia is a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. as sports addicts look to buy the perfect reminder of their favorite player or team.

But as with most of the products sold over the Internet, how do you know if it will arrive or if it will be authentic?

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reports that last year alone, almost $180 million worth of counterfeit merchandise was seized.

Jim Quarantillo thought he'd hit a homerun.

 "Looked like a very reputable site," said Quarantillo.  "There was nothing really alarming about it at all, they accepted pay pal, or all major credit cards."

Quarantillo forked over $1,200 for several items including trading cards and an autographed Derek Jeter ball.  As time dragged on though, he knew he'd been scammed.

"It was probably about 90 or 100 days after order that I went online and the website was down," said Quarantillo.  "Called them, the number was disconnected and there was no way, shape or form to get in touch with the sellers."

Every year thousands of victims nationwide spend big bucks buying memorabilia on sports websites.  In some cases they get only a portion of what they've ordered or nothing at all.

U.S. Postal Inspectors, who investigate many of these crimes, suggest you know the estimated values of the items you are looking for.  Keep in mind the old adage: iI the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

"Do some research, it never hurts to reach out to your local Better Business Bureau," said U.S. Postal Inspector TW Brown.  "You never want to give out your credit card number to some random person walking
down the street.  That is basically what you are doing by giving out your credit card number on the Internet."

Quarantillo's bank refunded the $1,200 he lost, but not all victims are as lucky.

Ironically, Quarantillo is a partner of an information security company.

"Internet fraud can happen to anybody," he said.  "It's not just the people who understand how the attacks are or how they are structured."

Investigators and consumer advocates recommend using credit cards, not debit cards or money orders, for online purchases.  Credit cards offer dispute rights, making it easier to reverse a fraudulent charge.  A debit card can instantly clean out your checking account.

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