The Department of Homeland Security has declared it captured 10 million counterfeit 3M N95 masks, including some possibly headed for hospitals for use by frontline healthcare employees.
New DHS Secretary Ali Mayorkas announced the bust, performed in coordination with 3M, the U.S. manufacturer of N95 masks, in a Wednesday press conference, and urged caution.
"We simply implore people to be aware of sites or individuals, selling products claiming to stop treat diagnose or cure COVID-19, in which a pharmaceutical product information together with grammatical errors or misspellings some indicative they don't come out of a legitimate business source," Mayorkas said.
Other seizures occurred in 12 countries throughout the past couple of weeks, officials said.
"Since the onset of the outbreak our representatives have also been exploring fraudulent coronavirus evaluation kits fake products, financial scams and phony medicines," Mayorkas said.
HSI Global Trade Investigations Division Director Steve Francis said the vast majority of the bogus masks come from China and said that if they were to be employed by healthcare workers it might be quite dangerous.
"Not only do they provide a false sense of security but how dangerous is the unexposed forgiving, how harmful is the exposed person?" Mayorkas said.
HSI informed about 6,000 suspected victims of this fraud, including physicians, medical centers and many others who might have bought medical masks from the illicit traders, urging them to immediately stop using the masks and also to contact HSI instantly, a news release stated.
Mayorkas also said that Americans are in a"vulnerable" time together with COVID-19, and agents will not be napping to prevent criminals from trying to exploit this.
"Criminals exploit our vulnerability for a quick buck is something which we'll continue to aggressively pursue"