WASHINGTON — Federal agents have seized more than 10 million fake 3M brand N95 masks in recent weeks, the result of an ongoing investigation into counterfeits sold in at least five states to hospitals, medical facilities and government agencies.
The most recent seizures occurred Wednesday when Homeland Security agents intercepted hundreds of thousands of counterfeit 3M masks in an East Coast warehouse that were set to be distributed, officials said.
Investigators also notified about 6,000 potential victims in at least 12 states including hospitals, medical facilities and others who may have unknowingly purchased knockoffs, urging them to stop using the medical-grade masks. Officials encouraged medical workers and companies to go to 3Ms
“Not only do they give a false sense of security, how dangerous is the exposed individual without any protective gear? They have no utility whatsoever,” Homeland Security Secretary Ali Mayorkas said of the fake masks.
The masks do not come through 3M's regular distributors, they come from outside the normal supply chain, officials said. But hospitals and medical groups have increasingly gone around normal purchasing routines during mask shortages in the global pandemic, officials said. They said the scams are taking advantage of the panic over masks.
Homeland Security officials would not say which states the
Nearly a year into the pandemic, fraud remains a major problem as scammers seek to exploit hospitals and desperate Americans. Federal investigators say they have seen an increase in
3M, based in Maplewood, Minnesota, is among the largest global producers of the N95 mask, which has been approved by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. It is considered the gold standard in protection against the coronavirus. The company delivered some 2 billion N95 masks in 2020 as the pandemic intensified, but in the earlier months, when masks were in short supply, fraudsters took advantage.
So far during the pandemic Homeland Security Investigations has used its 7,000 agents, along with border officials, the Food and Drug Administration and the FBI, to investigate the scams, seizing $33 million in
Over the past two weeks, federal agents have executed search warrants and seized masks in five different states, and more action is expected. But
3M has been dealing with increasing instances of fraud. Over the past year there has been more than 1,250 raids by law enforcement resulting in the seizure of millions of fake masks. The company has filed more than a dozen lawsuits over reports of fraud, counterfeiting and price gouging.
Colleen Long, The Associated Press