Homeland Security warns of massive fake 3M mask ring

The authorities in the US are investigating a massive counterfeiting operation in which fake 3M N95 masks were sold in at least five states.

The knock-offs have turned up in hospitals, medical facilities and government agencies and are becoming harder to spot, according to an AP News report citing Steve Francis, assistant director for global trade investigations with the Homeland Security Department’s principal investigative arm.

The identity of the states hasn’t been revealed for fear of compromising ongoing investigations into the criminal network distributing the masks.

An email from Homeland Security Investigations, viewed by AP, indicated that 3M mask models 1860 and 1860S may have been provided by a company called Q2 Solutions and may be fraudulent. The masks have a seal that says “Peru,” which is not used outside of Latin America.

In Washington state, officials discovered that 300,000 masks purchased from another supplier for about $1.4m were counterfeit. Meanwhile, Maine is reported to have purchased more than 2m potentially counterfeit N95 respirators that are now part of a national recall.

3M is one of the biggest mask producers in the world, and has been fighting the trade in counterfeits since before the start of the pandemic.

Last month it won an injunction against Florida firm Nationwide Source Inc in a lawsuit that claims the company is advertising and selling counterfeit N95 face masks to healthcare organisations at prices up to six times higher than normal.

That’s just 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. The company said in a recent update that it had investigated more than 10,000 reports globally of suspected fraud, counterfeiting and price gouging involving masks.

On Friday, 3M issued a notification detailing the things to look for when checking its 1860, 1860S and 1870 masks, noting that “all respirators imported into the US from any other country are likely to be counterfeit.”

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