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As if losing weren't enough: Bucs fans get forged tickets

Some Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans figured they were getting a good deal when they bought discounted tickets from sidewalk hawkers for Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings.

But about 40 people soon realized that the resold tickets were for phantom seats.

The forged tickets cost buyers $40 a piece or more, Tampa police said. Authorities don't know how many vendors were involved in the scheme. One forger could be responsible for selling them to consumers who could have resold them, said Tampa Detective Bill Todd of the Criminal Intelligence Bureau.

"Whoever produced these distributed them and had a number of people selling them," Todd said. "Some surely knew they were fakes."

But apparently the tickets were so like the real thing, even ticket-takers at Houlihan's Stadium were fooled.

The tickets all had seat numbers between 1 and 4. Up to 40 people filed police reports about the fake tickets with the Tampa Police Department, Todd said. Those duped bought their tickets from a variety of hawkers, none legitimate, he said.

One person was arrested Sunday in connection with the forgeries, Todd said, but details weren't available Tuesday.

Reports of sports ticket forgeries are unusual, Todd said. He has heard about some trouble with fake tickets for the World Series in Miami and possibly in Tampa during the 1992 Super Bowl. But phony tickets may be popping up more frequently, he said.

"Counterfeiting is pretty widespread right now with the onset of new technology," he said.

Todd, who works in plainclothes at the stadium and usually deals with pickpockets or petty crimes, added a warning for buyers:

"Be aware: If you buy from these guys on the corner, you may in fact be the loser."

_ KATHRYN WEXLER

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