Amidst the pandemic, unscrupulous companies have been producing and selling fake, non-filtering N95 masks, after realizing it’s cheaper to stamp “3M” onto the front than it is to develop actual N95 filtration. Even worse, these companies often charge more for the fake masks than 3M charges for the real thing.
To combat this, 3M has set up dedicated fraud investigation teams to coordinate with law enforcement and over 30 law firms. To date, the joint effort has seized over 3.5 million counterfeit masks, taken down over 13,500 deceptive social media posts, removed over 11,500 fraudulent e-commerce mask sellers and filed 19 lawsuits.
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Fighting counterfeiters is like playing whack-a-mole, and law enforcement can only do so much. What would be best is if the consumer could tell, at the point of purchase, if a so-called 3M N95 mask is real or fake. So the company is releasing information to help you do just that.
Let’s start with the price. “3M has not, and will not, raise prices for its respiratory protection products as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the company writes. Whatever their masks cost last year is what they should cost now. An authorized reseller of authentic 3M masks might run out of stock, but if you see them start pumping up the price of existing stock, you know something’s wrong. Here’s 3M’s official price list:
As an example, the type of 3M N95 masks most of us with workshops are likely to have (from prior to the pandemic, when they were easy to get) would be the model 8210 or 8210 Plus, which was commonly available at hardware stores and home centers. You’ve probably strapped these on many a time when sanding or painting a project. Trusted distributor Home Depot sells them (when they’re in stock) for $21.97 for 29 masks, or $1.10 per mask, which is in line with 3M’s pricing. You can be assured these are the real deal.
If you see a reseller charging $2+ for these, you’ll know something’s up–and you can contact 3M to do something about it (see bottom of this entry).
Spotting Signs of Counterfeiting on the Masks/Packaging Themselves
If it looks wrong, it probably is.
3M has strict quality standards, and therefore respirators that have issues such as missing or detached straps, blocked valves, faded or grainy packaging, or misspelled words are likely not authentic 3M respirators.
Check for packaging and instructions.
Counterfeit products are often sold without packaging, or in sub- standard packaging that does not match the original manufacturer’s packaging, and often do not contain important user instructions.
Look for labeling that appears to be for another country.
If a 3M respirator has packaging or labeling in another language, or appears to have been made in another country, please visit the following links:
The masks should not be sold as “loosies.”
3M filtering facepiece respirators should not be sold individually (loose, outside 3M packaging), and beware of bulk packaging. Counterfeit respirators are often offered as loose, single pieces, or in bulk quantities without 3M’s usual high-quality shipper cartons and user instructions. Neither 3M, nor its authorized distributors and dealers, sell 3M’s filtering facepiece respirators as loose individual units or in bulk without 3M packaging and user instructions.
Certain 3M respirator packaging includes 3M Safe Guard anti-counterfeit authentication technology
Products featuring 3M Safe Guard anti-counterfeit authentication technology can be validated online or via our 3M Safe Guard mobile application. To see which 3M respirator products feature this technology, visit the 3M Safe Guard website by going to safeguard.3m.com.
By this point, all of us have received spam e-mails offering N95 face masks for sale. These are sent out indiscriminately, hoping to reach the actual people in charge of ordering masks in bulk for their companies. If you’re one of these people, look for these conditions in the seller’s offerings to determine if they’re the real deal or not.
Calling It In
Lastly, “If you suspect fraud or price gouging contact 3M immediately,” the company asks. “Contact the 3M Fraud Hotline at 1 (800) 426-8688 or on the web at go.3M.com/covidfraud.”