Federal authorities are investigating the possibility that up to 3 million counterfeit N95 masks were sold to healthcare workers during the pandemic.
The N95 is a high-quality respirator. It is named for its ability to filter at least 95% of airborne particles. The mask meets federal standards for workplace safety and is commonly used by nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers.
Authentic N95’s are marked with the text “NIOSH,” the filter class “N95,” a “TC” approval number, and have headbands but not ear loops. Fake N95’s can be extremely difficult to spot.
“Counterfeit masks offer a sense of security, but do not provide the same level of protection as the real thing,” explains Kevin Rhodes, Vice President of N95-manufacturer 3M.
“These products are not tested to see if they make the N95 standards,” says Rhodes. “They’re not interested in testing them. They’re interested in making as many as they can as cheaply as possible.”
Investigators believe the fake masks are being produced in other countries and were sold to hospitals in at least five states. “They’re not coming from authorized dealers,” adds Rhodes. “They’re coming from companies really just coming into existence.”
During the pandemic, the DHS teamed up with the FDA and the FBI to investigate PPE scams. To date, authorities have conducted more than 1,200 raids resulting in hundreds of arrests and the seizure of 10 million fake N95’s.
3M, which delivered roughly 2 million N95’s in 2020, is fully committed to fighting respirator fraud. Thanks to the company’s efforts, more than 16,600 deceptive or false social media posts have been removed, over 15,000 fraudulent e-commerce listings have been taken down, and nearly 300 deceptive internet addresses have been removed.
3M has also filed 29 lawsuits against suspicious manufacturers, leading to 10 preliminary injunctions and 16 temporary restraining orders.
As this historic effort to combat respirator fraud continues, check out 3M’s website for tips on spotting a counterfeit N95.