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How can you tell if you have a fake N95 mask?

fake n95 masks have become an issue
Photo via michael_swan/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. has seen a flurry of fake N95 masks imported into the countries by scammers hoping to profit off the public health crisis. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reports it has confiscated almost 15 million counterfeit face masks since last February, according to CBS News

These fake masks are a risk to the public because they are often less effective than N95 masks, which filter 95% of particulate matter from the air. Aside from the N99, they are among the most effective masks to protect healthcare workers from exposure to COVID-19. 

Counterfeit masks, however, are often less than 95% effective, according to CBP. When CBP seized a shipment of 500,000 fake N95 masks last September, 10% of the respirators tested had a filter efficiency rating below 95%. 

Despite CBP’s diligence, some counterfeit masks have found their way into the U.S. market, Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at the Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, told CBS News.

“Earlier in the pandemic, health care providers were just deluged with scammers,” she told CBS MoneyWatch. “We received some donated KN95s that we test, and you would have two out of a batch that would fail even within a single manufacturer.” 

So how can you tell if you’ve accidentally bought a fake N95 mask? 

Avoid shopping for N95s on reseller sites, like Amazon or eBay, where you’re more likely to come across sellers with bad intentions. Instead, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of FDA-approved N95 alternative brands. Purchase your masks directly from the manufacturer. 

Additionally, all approved N95 masks must have an approval marking from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). If the mask lacks the marking—or it’s misspelled—it’s fake. An abbreviated approval number is also on the FFR itself. You can verify the approval number on the NIOSH Certified Equipment List (CEL) or the NIOSH Trusted-Source page to determine if NIOSH has approved it.

According to the CDC, these are other signs that an N95 is not authentic: 

  • No markings at all on the filtering facepiece respirator
  • No approval (TC) number on filtering facepiece respirator or headband
  • No NIOSH markings
  • NIOSH spelled incorrectly
  • Presence of decorative fabric or other decorative add-ons (e.g., sequins)
  • Claims of approval for children (NIOSH does not approve any respiratory protection for children)
  • Filtering facepiece respirator has ear loops instead of headbands

The safest bet is to check to see if the manufacturer is listed on the CDC’s trusted N95 respirators list

Read more on coronavirus face coverings:

Sources: CBS News, CBP, FDA, CDC, CDC 


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