Feb. 18 (UPI) — Federal agents have seized some 10 million counterfeit N95 respirator masks in recent weeks, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced Wednesday.
The masks, which fit more closely to the face and are more effective than standard surgical masks or cloth masks, are widely used by healthcare professionals to give them added protection as they treat COVID-19 patients.
Speaking during a news conference, Mayorkas said the Department of Homeland Security has worked with N95 manufacturer 3M to prevent the counterfeit masks from reaching hospitals and other first responders.
“Often, this battle is fought behind the scenes and is unknown to the general public, but you can be assured that the DHS workforce remains firmly committed to protecting the health and safety of our medical workers, the American public, and the integrity of the American economy,” Mayorkas said.
He said federal agents seized hundreds of thousands of masks Wednesday from an East Coast warehouse. Over the past two weeks, Homeland Security Investigations has carried out multiple search warrants in five states and experts to conduct more in future weeks.
HSI has notified some 6,000 suspected victims of the fraud to immediately stop using the counterfeit masks.
Homeland Security was first tipped off to the counterfeit operation by 3M.
“This collaboration has helped prevent millions of counterfeit respirators from reaching frontline workers,” said Kevin Rhodes, 3M’s deputy general counsel. “We are committed to fighting the pandemic from all angles — manufacturing needed PPE, working to prevent counterfeiting, and helping ensure N95s get to where they are needed the most.”