CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Dozens of Panthers fans walked away broke and disappointed from Bank of America Stadium Sunday – without ever stepping foot inside.
They were victims of ticket counterfeiters, who took their money and left them without a valid entry.
“They just basically told us you're S.O.L.,” said Robin Nowak, after talking to police. “If (we) see the person who scalped the tickets, to call and let them know.”
Another fan made a copy of his bogus ticket before turning it over to police, and quickly lost his patience.
“Here's your one fake one. I bought a second one. I'm starving, I'm thirsty, and I can't buy nothing else because I'm out of money,” he said.
Michele Johnson said she’s been to NFL games before, and thought she bought the real thing.
“This was the right paper, weight, authentic,” she said, “and we gave him the $420. And when we got to the gate we realized they were not valid.”
She realizes now that the ticket did not have a hologram.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Major John Diggs said big games – like Sunday’s near-capacity Cowboys game – are popular for counterfeiters because so many people want to get in.
Maj. Diggs confirmed two arrests for counterfeit tickets Sunday. Other law enforcement agents who asked not to be identified because they work undercover said one man was found with 14 fake tickets and $900 – likely from victims of counterfeit sales.
“There is a possibility that any ticket you buy on the street is going to be counterfeit,” said Maj. Diggs. “You really don't know if you're buying a good ticket, and you should probably go through the ticket office to make sure a ticket is real before you actually put any money into it.”
Tickets weren’t the only fakes outside the stadium Sunday.
Agents with the Secretary of State’s office loaded boxes of counterfeit NFL jerseys into their car after a day of checking on vendors.
The agents tallied about 120 jerseys, or close to $15,000 in bogus merchandise. They pointed out fake holograms and shoddy workmanship as clues that the jerseys weren’t officially-licensed NFL products.
Bob Barnes is a legitimate vendor who didn’t have any problems with law enforcement agents on Sunday. He did a brisk business on Stonewall Street before and after the game.
“We buy everything legit, nothing fake from us,” said Barnes. “We buy it through the NFL.” He said most counterfeiters don’t have stands in fixed locations, but travel on foot with backpacks so they can evade law enforcement more easily.
Barnes pointed out holograms with serial numbers, that he says law enforcement agents can look up in to find out if the product is legitimate. Also, most shirts with the NFL logo on the collar tag are usually official.
And color? There’s only one Panther blue, said the agents. You can see it on the NFL’s website – other shades are probably fakes.
Maj. Diggs said it’s a case of buyer beware, because it’s money fans will probably never get back.
“It’s money that they might as well have thrown away,” he said.