More than 460,000 counterfeit N95 face masks were intercepted by federal authorities in Seattle in one of the latest of several large-scale seizures of its sort, the U.S. government said Thursday.
Now close to 10 million fake N95 masks have been confiscated nationwide in recent weeks including the latest seized Wednesday in Washington state, the Department of Homeland Security said in a news release.
DHS put out photographs from the Seattle seizure that show boxes upon boxes bearing the branding of 3M, the American corporation that developed and markets the N95 respirator mask.
The counterfeit masks were destined for first responders in the Puget Sound region, and DHS said that federal authorities found seven organizations that might have purchased them.
DHS said the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for the more than 460,000 counterfeit masks confiscated Wednesday is approximately $587,000.
The masks were seized by the Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) Border Enforcement Security Taskforce, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the FBI, DHS said in the news release.
Robert Hammer, special agent in charge of HSI’s regional operations, called the sale of counterfeit masks a “serious threat” to workers on the front lines of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“During a time that we are relying on masks and other personal protective equipment to protect our first responders, health care providers and members of the public, it is disheartening that these items can sometimes be fraudulent,” Donald M. Voiret, FBI special agent in charge of the bureau’s Seattle field office, said in a statement.
The agency has been receiving investigative leads through 3M and together they have notified about 6,000 suspected victims spanning 12 states, according to DHS.