Hospitals, government agencies and medical institutions in at least five states unknowingly purchased millions of counterfeit masks, federal authorities announced on Wednesday.
Investigators said that many of the masks were sophisticated fakes, with the fraudulent N95 masks being stamped with the 3M logo and arriving in boxes that read “Made in the U.S.A,” even though they were neither manufactured by 3M nor domestically.
Homeland Security Investigations also warned that the fake masks were dangerous because they offer less protection against the coronavirus compared to legitimate N95 masks. The investigation was first reported by the Associated Press.
Cassie Sauer, the president and chief executive of the Washington State Hospital Association, told The New York Times that the masks were “really good fakes” that included the 3M logo, secure straps, a metal bar across the top and a foam strip that goes over the bridge of a nose, just like authentic N95 masks.
“They look, they feel, they fit and they breathe like a 3M mask,” she said, adding that even though many of the fake masks remain in a warehouse, some health care workers unknowingly used them, possibly putting themselves at risk of contracting the virus.
“It is incredibly disheartening – really, really frustrating to discover that we have these masks,” Sauer said. “It’s reprehensible, the depravity. We’re horrified.”
3M, based in Minnesota, said that it had helped officials in Washington and its home state confirm that they had unknowingly purchased inauthentic 3M respirators from distributors with no ties to the company.
“As part of that effort, 3M is working with law enforcement and customs agencies to prevent the sale and manufacture of counterfeit 3M respirators,” the company said, according to multiple reports.