Federal agents seize more than 11 million fake N95 masks
Federal agents have seized more than 11 million fake N95 masks designed to mimic those made by 3M, officials announced Wednesday.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a news conference that the department has seized the counterfeit masks over the course of several weeks.
The most recent seizure took place on Wednesday, when officers seized more than 1 million counterfeit masks as part of an investigation into an enterprise distributing masks throughout the U.S., he said.
Mayorkas added that agents have conducted multiple search warrants and seized counterfeit masks from five states “from coast to coast,” adding that more action will be taken “in the coming weeks.”
“We are at a vulnerable time, with the pandemic costing so many lives and causing so much harm,” Mayorkas said. “Criminals [who] exploit our vulnerability for a quick buck is something that we will continue to aggressively pursue.”
Officials declined to specify where people have been arrested and in what states the masks have been seized because the investigation is ongoing.
Initial leads on the fake masks came directly from 3M, which has been working to manufacture N95 masks.
“3M is proud to partner with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to help combat counterfeiting of 3M N95 respirators,” Kevin Rhodes, 3M’s deputy general counsel, said during the news conference.
“This collaboration has helped prevent millions of counterfeit respirators from reaching front-line workers. We are committed to fighting the pandemic from all angles, manufacturing needed PPE [personal protective equipment], working to prevent counterfeiting and helping ensure N95s get to where they are needed the most,” he said
The company told The Hill that it recommends purchasing 3M N95 masks directly from authorized distributors. It provides tips on how to spot counterfeits on its website.
The seizures took place as part of Operation Stolen Promise, which began in April to curb fraudulent and criminal activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic.