3M wins injunction against Florida firm in fake masks case

A US district judge has granted a preliminary injunction against a company that 3M has accused of cashing in on the pandemic by selling counterfeit face masks at inflated prices.

3M – a major manufacturer of face masks including the widely-used N95 respirator – filed the lawsuit (0:2020cv02694) against Nationwide Source Inc last month citing trademark infringement.

The suit claims Delray Beach, Florida-based Nationwide was advertising and selling counterfeit N95 face masks to healthcare organisations at prices up to six times higher than normal. It’s one of dozens of legal actions 3M has launched in the US and Canada to try to crack down on counterfeiting during the COVID-19 crisis.

Judge Wilhelmina Wright, presiding in the district court for the district of Minnesota, granted the injunction and ordering Nationwide to stop using 3M’s trademarks and falsely representing itself as a 3M distributor or authorised retailer.

3M said in an update that it had investigated more than 10,000 reports globally of suspected fraud, counterfeiting and price gouging involving masks.

It also secured the removal of tens of thousands of e-commerce listings with fraudulent or counterfeit product offerings and false or deceptive social media posts, and has pledged to donate any monetary damages from its lawsuits to COVID-19 charities.

Counterfeits are often made in non-sterile sweatshops and may not be capable of providing appropriate respiratory protection to users. They can endanger lives and waste precious time and resources by diverting buyers from legitimate sources of respirators.

“Nationwide's activities were unlawful and endangered the lives of essential medical workers,” said 3M in a statement.

Among the healthcare organisations that purchased the disputed masks from Nationwide was Hennepin County Medical Centre, which bought around 10,000 masks claiming to be genuine 3M products at a cost of $7.95 apiece – whereas 3M sells them for $1.27 – according to a report.

HCMC staff suspected the masks were counterfeit, and sent samples to 3M for inspection. The company concluded they were fake.

Counterfeit face masks were prominent in the international  Pangea XIII enforcement operation, reported in May 2020 as the first wave of the pandemic was in full swing, and continued seizures since then suggests the actors behind the illicit trade are still highly active.

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