Washington – Federal agents have seized nearly 10 million counterfeit 3M brand N95 masks in recent weeks, the result of ongoing investigations into counterfeit drugs sold to hospitals, medical facilities and government agencies in at least five states.
Officials said the most recent seizures occurred on Wednesday when Homeland Security agents seized thousands of fake 3M masks at an East Coast warehouse.
Investigators informed hospitals, medical facilities, and about 6,000 potential victims in at least 12 states who may have inadvertently purchased a knockoff, urging them to stop using medical-grade masks. Officials encouraged medical workers and companies to visit the 3Ms website to suggest fake spots.
Phony masks are not tested to see if they meet strict N95 standards and may put frontline medical personnel at risk when used when treating patients with COVID-19.
FILE – Fake face masks seized during a press conference at the Customs Headquarters building in Hong Kong on October 30, 2020 are displayed. (Photo by Anthony Walls / AFP via Getty Image)
Nearly a year into the epidemic, fraud remains a major problem as scammers try to exploit hospitals and frustrate Americans. Federal investigators say they have seen an increase in the sale of counterfeit medicines, including vaccines, as well as counterfeit drug produced abroad and personal protective equipment. The plans already deliver products with opposite pandemics, when fraudsters focus more on fleeing customers.
3M, based in Maplewood, Minnesota, is one of the largest global producers of N95 masks, approved by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. It is considered the gold standard in protection against coronaviruses. The company distributed some 2 billion N95 masks as an epidemic in 2020, but in the earlier months, when the masks were in short supply, fraudsters took advantage.
During the pandemic so far Homeland Security Investigation has used its 7,000 agents with border officials, the Food and Drug Administration and the FBI to investigate scandals, seize $ 33 million in counterfeit products, and more than 200 people Arrested. The effort is based on the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, a government watchdog aimed at enforcing international trade laws and combating intellectual property theft.
In the past two weeks, federal agents have executed search warrants and confiscated masks in five different states, with more action expected. But phony masks have already outnumbered workers in other matters.
3M is handling increasing cases of fraud. Over 1,250 raids have been conducted by law enforcement in the past year, resulting in the seizure of millions of fake masks. The company has filed more than a dozen lawsuits over reports of fraud, forgery and pricing.