LEXINGTON, Ky. — U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have seized thousands of counterfeit 3M masks around the country. The selling of fake masks has increased along with the demand after medical experts suggested using N95 or KN95 masks as protection from the highly contagious COVID-19 omicron variant.

What You Need To Know

  • CDC claims around 60% of masks are counterfeit

  • Fake masks are much more harmful

  • There are ways to determine if a mask is real

  • Real masks should be worn for three days

“Criminal enterprises continue to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to sell counterfeit, unapproved, and unsafe PPE and pharmaceuticals,” said Steve Bansbach, public affairs specialist at the Department of Homeland Security/Customs and Border Protection for Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, Pennsylvania (Erie), Minnesota and Nebraska. “But U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has remained focused on its mission to protect consumers, reduce trading costs and promote a level playing field for American businesses.”

Counterfeit and pirated goods threaten America’s innovation economy, the competitiveness of businesses, the livelihoods of U.S. workers, and, in some cases, national security and the health and safety of consumers, according to CBP. To combat the entry of counterfeit and pirated goods into America, CBP targets and seizes imports of counterfeit and pirated goods, and enforces exclusion orders on patent-infringing and other goods that violate intellectual property rights, such as N95 masks.

“The dedicated men and women at CBP are committed to ensuring dangerous drugs and counterfeit products are off the streets, our communities are kept safe, and our borders are secured,” CBP Commissioner Chris Magnus said in a news release. “Equally important to our mission is facilitating lawful trade and travel that is critical to the sustained growth of the U.S. economy.”

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CBP collected more than $9 billion in estimated duties and also saw a dramatic increase in the confiscation of fake products this past December. There was $3.31 billion worth of counterfeit goods seized in 2021 — a 153% increase from 2020. 

“These seizures demonstrate that our intelligence and operational abilities are disrupting criminal enterprises and safeguarding legitimate commerce,” Mangus said. “We will continue to strengthen these capabilities and meet these challenges and future ones with the same determination and resolve.”

Using a fake N95 respirator poses a serious risk by providing a false sense of security and allows COVID-19 particles to infect the body through one’s nose and mouth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC also issued a statement claiming about 60% of N95, or KN95 masks on the market are counterfeit.

A genuine mask will have the letters “NIOSH” on it, meaning they meet the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health requirements. China approves the KN95 masks, so they will not have those letters. The face-piece respirator on these masks should have headbands, not ear loops, and the N95 should not have decorative fabric, add-ons or elaborate claims.

Health experts say people should be able to wear the same mask for three days.