SEATTLE — More than 460,000 counterfeit 3M N95 masks headed for the Puget Sound region that would have been used by first responders were seized by federal authorities.
The fake masks were seized Wednesday by Homeland Security Investigations' Border Enforcement Security Taskforce, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the FBI.
“Counterfeit surgical masks are a serious threat to the front-line personnel who rely on them as they bravely combat this pandemic. Ensuring the integrity of the PPE supply chain is of utmost importance,” said Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who is overseeing Homeland Security Investigations in the Pacific Northwest. “HSI Seattle is actively engaging with our law enforcement partners to combat the trafficking of counterfeit PPE. The seizures today demonstrate our commitment to pursue anyone who puts lives and people’s health at risk just to gain an illicit profit.”
Seven potential organizations were found to have purchased the counterfeit 3M masks, which were valued at approximately $587,000. All organizations have been notified.
In the past few weeks, nearly 10 million counterfeit 3M N95 masks have been seized by federal authorities. Investigators have notified about 6,000 suspected victims in at least 12 states who may have unknowingly purchased knockoffs.
Counterfeit masks have already made their way to Washington state. About 2 million being investigated by Homeland Security were distributed to dozens of hospitals before being pulled off shelves. Most were not used, according to officials.
The masks do not come through 3M's regular distributors; they come from outside the normal supply chain, officials said. But hospitals and medical groups have increasingly gone around normal purchasing routines during mask shortages in the global pandemic, officials said. They said the scams are taking advantage of the panic over masks.
Fraud remains a major issue as scammers seek to exploit hospitals and desperate Americans during the pandemic. Federal investigators say they have seen an increase in phony websites purporting to sell vaccines as well as fake medicine produced overseas and scams involving personal protective equipment. The schemes deliver phony products, unlike earlier in the pandemic when fraudsters focused more on fleecing customers.