It never takes long for scammers and counterfeiters to take advantage of a rough situation, such as the one that we are currently going through. We often hear about phone and email scams that rope in so many naïve people who just want to help. As bad as these happenings are, there are other fraudulent deceptions that could be a danger to your health: counterfeit face masks.
What are counterfeit face masks?
To meet the pressures to protect our doctors and nurses, purchases of PPE from less reliable or unvetted sources has been our temporary go-to solution, which has led to some very eye-opening reports of cost-cutting measures by these manufacturers, who have produced completely inferior quality masks and trying to pass them off as NIOSH certified N95 masks.
This may sound like the beginning of a bad novel; however, it has become a very hazardous situation, especially for our healthcare workers. The outbreak of the coronavirus has led to a huge increase in the demand for PPE (personal protective equipment). The established suppliers of items such as face masks and gowns have been maxed out, and an unfortunate fact is that as a nation we have not always produced a sufficient number of our own equipment pieces.
The deceptive method of producing non-certified, inferior items is nothing new, but the extent to which this has reached is much further than most of us are used to seeing. Regular consumers who have tried to purchase N95 masks for their own personal protection or for that of their employees have discovered their counterfeit masks are providing little to no true defense against harmful contaminants.
Many of these manufacturers have put a lot of time and effort into passing these shoddy masks off as the real thing by copying the NIOSH endorsement on the masks and packaging. Just like some companies mimic designer purses, these are capitalizing on the urgent need for protection.
Why should I be worried about counterfeit face masks?
The counterfeit masks are completely misrepresenting the amount of protection you should be receiving when properly wearing the mask. N95 means that the mask filters out 95% of all airborne particulates down to 0.3 microns in size, including airborne infections and illnesses.
For frontline healthcare personnel, the difference between inadequate and greatest level of protection could sometimes mean the difference between life and death. This is also the case for individuals who work in other hazardous conditions such as with asbestos and molds. Exposure to these types of particulates can lead to chronic diseases and death. Having certified protection under adverse conditions isn’t something to overlook.
How can I tell the difference?
One of the easiest ways to identify counterfeit products is in the cost. If it is too good to be true, it probably is! Before this pandemic hit, procurement personnel knew to look for low-cost masks as an indicator. Today, you can add extremely high-priced masks as a possible marker, too. This is due to the high demand that is out there and wanting to look more credible with the high price tag attached to them.
Believe it or not, many overseas companies are detectable because of the instructions and packaging that comes with the products. Misspelled or poorly structured sentences can be a huge red flag that the product is not checked and certified by NIOSH.
All products endorsed by a U.S. government agency will have a testing and certification number listed on the item. You can go to the CDC’s website and verify the number is correct and associated with the right product/company.
Should I report a scammer if I find one?
It is best if you do report any possible scams or fake products to the government. All reports are investigated and dealt with as quickly as possible.