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Massive fake N95 mask scam under investigation, feds say

Written by on February 11, 2021

Federal authorities advise that as many as five states purchased fake N95 masks, stocking hospitals, medical facilities and government agencies with foreign-made knockoffs that put health workers at risk for the coronavirus.

The fake masks closely resemble N95 masks produced by Minnesota-based company 3M. Officials have started investigations in five states.

These masks create “a false sense of security,” said Steve Francis, assistant director for global trade investigations with the Homeland Security Department.

N95 masks that were destined for a hospital on the East Coast where medical workers are fighting on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in December 2020.

N95 masks that were destined for a hospital on the East Coast where medical workers are fighting on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic in December 2020. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

“We’ve seen a lot of fraud and other illegal activity,” Francis added.

The masks are delivered by companies that are “just coming into existence,” according to Kevin Rhodes, 3M’s vice president and deputy general counsel.

“They’re not coming from authorized distributors,” Rhodes said.

Throughout the pandemic, Homeland Security Investigations has seized over 10 million counterfeit 3M masks. The company has filed more than a dozen lawsuits over reports of fraud and counterfeiting as demand for the small, tight-fitting masks skyrocketed across 2020.

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Officials did not identify either the states or companies under investigation, but Washington state officials found that 300,000 masks purchased for about $1.4 million were counterfeit.

“3M has recently assisted Washington State authorities in confirming that N95 respirators purchased from distributors with no relationship to 3M are not authentic 3M products,” the manufacturer wrote to Fox News in an email. “3M recommends purchasing our products only from a 3M authorized distributor.”

Cassie Sauer, president and chief executive officer of the Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA), said perpetrators have become quite adept in creating fraudulent personal protective equipment (PPE), and some health care workers who donned the fake N95s didn’t even notice a difference.

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In a related press release sent to Fox News, Sauer said “these masks had the appropriate paperwork and passed physical inspection and testing.”

Fox News’ Kayla Rivas contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.

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