More than 460,000 counterfeit 3M N95 surgical masks destined to be used by first responders in the Puget Sound region were seized Wednesday by Homeland Security Investigations’ (HSI) Border Enforcement Security Taskforce (BEST), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) 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 oversees HSI operations 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.”
HSI, CBP and FBI work together to prevent unauthorized and counterfeit products from getting to U.S. consumers.
“Criminal organizations are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic by selling counterfeit personal protective equipment to unsuspecting American consumers,” said Brian Humphrey, Director of Field Operations for CBP in Seattle. “In conjunction with our law enforcement partners, the vigilant men and women of CBP are working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to keep these unlawful and unsafe products out of our nation’s hospitals and homes.”
The seizure of these counterfeit surgical masks not only ensures the health and safety of frontline health care workers by preventing them from receiving inferior personal protective equipment, it also protects the integrity of the American economy.
Donald M. Voiret, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Seattle Field Office said, “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. We are grateful for our law enforcement partnerships to remove these products from distribution. The FBI encourages everyone to exercise due diligence and appropriate caution when dealing with unknown vendors and brokers in the supply chain.”
This counterfeit 3M N95 surgical mask seizure has a manufacturer’s recommended retail price (MSRP) of approximately $587,000. However, there are reported instances where victim organizations have paid high dollar amounts in excess of the MSRP to secure masks and other forms of PPE.
BEST identified seven potential victim organizations that purchased the counterfeit 3M masks. Notifications have been made to all potential victim organizations to prevent counterfeit PPE from being distributed to frontline workers.
HSI special agents determined the masks were counterfeit after working with the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center and 3M Company.
Potential criminal violations range from smuggling, trafficking in counterfeit goods, wire fraud, money laundering, theft or fraud in connection with government programs and price gouging.
A number of BEST member agencies and partners provided critical support for this operation, including: CBP, FBI, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)-Office of Inspector General (OIG), General Services Administration-OIG, the Food and Drug Administration, Health and Human Services-OIG, the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Seattle Police Department and King County Office of Emergency Management.
HSI Pacific Northwest is actively engaged in a nationwide effort to combat counterfeit PPE trafficking.