Last month, New England Patriots fan Rebecca Wyman searched online for a jersey bearing the name of the team's running back Dion Lewis. She planned to wear it during the Super Bowl as a way of needling her coworkers in Wisconsin, home of the Green Bay Packers, who didn't make it to the big game. But the joke may have been on her.

A day after she placed her order, which she believed was through the Patriots' official online store, the website sent her a confirmation email from a Hotmail account filled with broken English. When she searched for the retailer online, she discovered it was based in China, though she couldn't find a phone number or a complete physical address. 

"I worried that I had been scammed, and I believed they really weren't going to send it," says Wyman.

After receiving no response to her email cancelling the order, Wyman notified her credit card issuer that she was challenging the $72.50 charge. The chargeback is currently in dispute.

“This has all the red flags that we look for," says Katherine Hutt, a spokeswoman for Better Business Bureau, which has been warning consumers to be wary of websites selling counterfeit merchandise.

Wyman's case is one example of why people should beware of scams and counterfeiting when ordering football or any sports-related Super Bowl merchandise. Counterfeiting of NFL and other sports merchandise is widespread, says Matthew Bourke, spokesman for the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, a coalition of U.S. and international agencies that investigate the theft of intellectual property and enforce global trade laws. 

$20 Million in Counterfeit Sports Items Seized

At a news conference on Thursday in Houston, where the Patriots and Atlanta Falcons will face off on Sunday, U.S. authorities announced that over the past 12 months they had seized more than 260,000 counterfeit sports related items, worth an estimated $20 million.

Counterfeit NFL products were the most commonly seized merchandise, with an estimated value of more than $8 million. The seizures, from flea markets, retail outlets and street vendors, included fake jerseys, hats and cell-phone accessories, among other items. 

Nationally, for the 12 months ending September 30, U.S. authorities confiscated about $1.38 billion in all types of counterfeit goods.

Bourke says counterfeiters easily can fool consumers, especially online. "Copyright-infringing websites sometimes look nearly identical to the real websites," he says.

Bourke and Hutt advise sport enthusiasts to shop with authorized sellers or at stores run by the teams themselves.

How to Buy Super Bowl Merchandise

If you plan to order NFL merchandise, follow these tips to avoid being scammed.

Check out the company. Look for a report on the retailer at the Better Business Bureau. Go beyond the company's letter grade rating and read any reviews and complaints and reports of government actions. Also search the web with the retailer's name and such terms as "complaints" and "reviews."

Look for contact information. Beware if a website doesn't list a telephone number or physical address. Use caution if a site uses a generic email address, such as one in ending "hotmail," "gmail," or "yahoo," instead of one that incorporates the company name, says Bourke. And be wary of website URLs that incorporate such terms as "cheap," "sale," and "real," he advises.

Pay with a credit card. A credit card provides the best protection if the Super Bowl merchandise you ordered never arrives, turns out to be counterfeit, or has other issues. "There are so many more protections than if you are using a debit card or gift card," says Hutt.

Check for a hologram. Authentic sports merchandise features a hologram tag that changes as you rotate the item, says Bourke. Counterfeit products, he says, often omit the hologram or use a plain silver sticker. If there is a hologram, it should include a serial number, which is also often missing from fakes. This is particularly useful if you’re shopping at a walk-in store where you can examine merchandise before paying.

Look for other signs of counterfeits. They can include misspellings or quality issues with product hangtags, labels, and graphics. Also look for uneven embroidery and poor quality graphics, advises the Coalition to Advance the Protection of Sports logos.

Beware of auction and classified ad sites. Read customer reviews before buying any Super Bowl merchandise from eBay, advises Hutt. Hutt also warns against purchasing any sport-related items from Craigslist, which has a Better Business Bureau rating of "F" for its failure to address consumer complaints. "There are so many counterfeit sellers on there," she says. Craigslist did not respond to a request for comment.

Complain. If you believe you have been sold counterfeit sport merchandise, complain to the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center. If you've lost money or otherwise been scammed, report it to the Federal Trade Commission and your local or state consumer protection office. Also complain to the BBB.