Agency reveals several states, hospitals, others purchase millions of fake N95 masks

*The Homeland Security Investigations in the United States warns consumers to stay vigilant about fake products, including counterfeit N95 nose masks in circulation

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

Millions of consumers of the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the states, hospitals, and government agencies have used the N95 masks across the United States (US) amid the fatal Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The US Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI), which is the branch of US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in charge of monitoring organisations trying to exploit customs laws, has disclosed that millions of counterfeit N95 masks made their way to the country, and were sold in at least five states, agency report said.

It was gathered that millions of the fake masks were purchased by hospitals, medical institutions, and government agencies in the country.

The ICE noted that about two million of the mask brand actually made it to the frontline where consumers, especially healthcare workers, used them in Washington State.

Cassie Sauer, President of the Washington State Hospital Association, stated Washington State hospitals bought hundreds of thousands of the fraudulent masks, and the association itself bought another 300,000 for its members.

It is also observed that counterfeiting skills have reached expert levels over the years, and these masks were no exception.

Sauer said several of the affected masks were stamped with the 3M logo and shipped in boxes that read “Made in the U.S.A.,” despite not being made stateside or made by 3M according to the investigators.

According to the President of the Washington State Hospital Association, the masks were “really good fakes”.

She stressed that the fraudulent sellers had the design nuances down pat ─ right down to a metal bar across the top and a foam strip across the nose.

“They look, they feel, they fit and they breathe like a 3M mask,” said Sauer.

But, they were not made by 3M, and officials don’t know enough about them to know how protective they might be, report stated.

Whether the masks were as effective as a real N95 made by 3M or not, it doesn’t really matter to HSI.

Brian Weinhaus, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, told the New York Times (NYT): “We don’t know if they meet the standards.”

Weinhaus stated that companies claiming to be medical suppliers were likely buying the copycat N95s in China, then selling them as legitimate 3M masks.

He told the NYT that many of the masks include a reflective seal with the word “Peru,” which 3M said it does not use outside of Latin America.

HSI is doing its best to try to track the respirators back to the source and stop them at the border, said he.

The agency, therefore, warned the general public to stay vigilant in view of the said counterfeit N95 masks in circulation.

Report also noted the latest discovery is the second large counterfeit nab that HSI has made recently.

In early December 2020, more than 100,000 counterfeit 3M N95 surgical masks destined to be used by hospital workers were seized by ICE.

HSI is serious about protecting the legitimacy of coronavirus-related items like masks. Early in the pandemic, the agency launched a special operation – called Operation Stolen Promise – to protect US consumers from the increasing and evolving threat posed by the pandemic.

The operation involves various federal agencies and private sector partners, including Pfizer, 3M, and Amazon. The companies are all part of the manufacturer-to-consumer purchasing chain.

Even the Alibaba Group, a Chinese version of Amazon which was once on the list of the world’s most “notorious markets” for counterfeit goods, was said to have signed up to do its part.

The operation has done a lot for consumers. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the agency sinkholed 11,000+ COVID-19 domains and made hundreds of arrests.

Amazon alone stopped more than 6.5 million products that made inaccurate claims, and it removed over a million offers for suspected price gouging and referred the most flagrant offenders to federal and state law enforcement.

Still, HSI is asking consumers to remain vigilant, mostly because the agency is focused on things that cross the US borders and typically does not conduct operations at medical facilities.

The agency said if anyone suspects, or even wants to verify the legitimacy of a coronavirus-related product, HSI encourages the public to report that potential fraud to

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