These Masks Are "Extremely Dangerous," Dept. of Homeland Security Warns

Officials are worried these popular masks are "providing a false sense of security."

We all have our preferences when it comes to the masks we use day in and day out, but some are more popular than others. Now, the high demand of one mask in particular is having an unfortunate consequence. The Department of Homeland Security just issued a warning that many counterfeit versions of one type of mask have been in circulation, which could be leaving you vulnerable to the virus. Read on to find out if your mask could be counterfeit and for more news you should know about your face coverings, find out When the CDC Says You Shouldn't Double Mask.

Government officials just seized one million counterfeit N95 masks.

nurse holding an N95 face mask protection during Coronavirus epidemic
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N95 masks—tight-fitting face coverings that filter particles at 95 percent efficacy—are one of the best masks out there. Unfortunately, the high demand for these super protective masks has resulted in the production of a lot of fakes.

The Department of Homeland Security announced that federal agents seized one million counterfeit N95 masks on Feb. 17, as reported by The New York Times. Numerous boxes of masks stamped with the name 3M, which is the largest American producer of N95 masks, were seized—making the total number of fake N95s confiscated in the recent weeks more than 11 million, according to Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Secretary. And for more mask concerns, beware that If You See This on Your Mask, the FDA Says Toss It Immediately.

Officials say these masks are "extremely dangerous" and may not protect you as promised.

woman wearing N95 mask to protect pollution PM2.5 and virus. COVID-19 Coronavirus and Air pollution pm2.5 concept.
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While it is not certain that these counterfeit masks do not work, there is no way to determine whether or not these fake N95 masks meet the standards that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has set, Brian Weinhaus, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, told The Times.

Steve K. Francis, an assistant director for the Global Trade Investigations Division of Homeland Security Investigations, said that buying masks directly from 3M and the company's authorized suppliers is safe, but if you go through outside channels, you could end up buying a counterfeit N95. "They're extremely dangerous," Francis said during a news conference, according to The Times. "They're providing a false sense of security to our first line responders, to American consumers." And for more up-to-date COVID news delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

The CDC says there are several ways to spot a counterfeit N95 mask.

During a pandemic, a mid adult woman protects herself by placing an N95 face mask over her nose and mouth. She is standing outdoors.
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While many of these counterfeit masks are made to look very real, there are some ways you can tell if your N95 mask is fake. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that NIOSH-approved N95s will have an "approval label on or within the packaging," like on the box or in the instruction manual. These N95 masks should also have an abbreviated approval on the mask itself, which can be cross-referenced to verify your mask on the NIOSH Certified Equipment List.

If your N95 mask has no markings or approval number on the mask and no NIOSH markings, the CDC says it could be counterfeit. You should also check to see if NIOSH is spelled incorrectly, if there is decorative fabric or other decorative add-ons like sequins, if it claims to be approved for use by children, and if it has ear loops instead of headbands. All of these are signs that your N95 mask is likely counterfeit. And for more from the CDC on masks that don't make the cut, find out why The CDC Warns Against Using These 6 Face Masks.

Your KN95 mask could also be counterfeit.

white KN95 or N95 mask for protection pm 2.5 and corona virus isolated on grey background. Prevention of the spread of virus and pandemic COVID-19.
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While some people in the general public are using N95 masks, the CDC recommends that they be reserved for healthcare workers, which has resulted in many non-healthcare workers turning to KN95 masks. These masks are similar to N95s in their level of protection, but are regulated by China's government and are not approved for U.S. medical settings.

This means that these masks are available in abundance for use by the general public. But unfortunately, because of the lack of U.S. regulation, there is a chance that your KN95 mask could be counterfeit as well. According to the CDC, at least 60 percent of KN95 masks circulating in the U.S. may be counterfeit or fake. And for more mask news to be aware of, check out If You're Layering These Masks, the CDC Says to Stop Immediately.

But it can be hard to tell if your KN95 mask is fake.

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Since the U.S. does not regulate KN95 masks, the CDC doesn't have a similar list for possible signs of fake KN95s like it does for N95 masks, so it may be harder to pinpoint counterfeit versions. However, Avilash Cramer, PhD, a recent graduate from the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program, told NPR that if the packaging of your KN95 mask says it's NIOSH-approved, it's most likely fake seeing as NIOSH is a U.S. government agency that doesn't approve masks made to another country's standards.

Instead, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized—but not approved–some KN95 masks for emergency use stateside. Fortunately, the FDA keeps a running list of all the masks it has authorized for emergency use, which you can cross-reference to see if the model you have is on the list. And for more coronavirus-related warnings you should be aware of, find out why experts say Don't Do This Until a Month After Your COVID Vaccine.

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