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Homeland Security seizes more than 11 million counterfeit N95 in nationwide scam

More than 11 million counterfeit N95 masks throughout 5 states have been seized by the Department of Homeland Security in latest weeks, and authorities say suspected victims of the scam embody hospitals and medical amenities in no less than 12 states.

That whole contains 1 million faux masks seized right now at a warehouse in Western Maryland, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas introduced Wednesday.

An preliminary felony investigation revealed China to be the supply of the faux masks purportedly made by U.S. producer 3M, mentioned Steve Francis, director of the Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, which is led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s investigative arm Homeland Security Investigations.

“They’re extremely dangerous,” Francis advised reporters. “They’re providing a false sense of security to our first line responders, to American consumers. I can’t stress how important it is to ensure we have the legitimate 3M N95 masks that are being deployed to our first responders.”

Mayorkas, who referred to as the counterfeit respirators “of no utility whatsoever,” mentioned {that a} well being care employee utilizing one round a affected person then turns into a hazard to others. “Not only do they give a false sense of security, but how dangerous is the exposed individual?” Mayorkas posed to reporters gathered at his inaugural press convention as chief of the Department of Homeland Security. “How dangerous is the individual confronting a potential COVID-19 infection without any protective gear?”

DHS has notified about 6,000 suspected victims of the large scam, advising them to test their provides for counterfeit N95 masks.

As of February 10, the division’s investigative arm has seized more than $33 million in illicit proceeds linked to COVID-19-related fraud. Officials have arrested 227 individuals, served 222 felony search warrants and opened 862 investigations as a part of an ongoing well being care fraud investigation launched in April 2020 dubbed “Operation Stolen Promise” by the company. Plus, more than 1,800 shipments of mislabeled, fraudulent, unauthorized or prohibited take a look at kits or PPE have been seized by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

As many as 2 million phony 3M masks valuing $8 million have been discovered in roughly 40 hospitals in Washington State alone, based on Washington State Hospital Association. “These masks had the appropriate paperwork and passed physical inspection and testing,” mentioned Cassie Sauer, president and CEO of the affiliation. “These N95s are precious resources we need to keep staff safe. It is reprehensible that counterfeiters are selling fake goods.”

What kind of masks to put on and how you can purchase it

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Pirated masks have been additionally discovered this month at Cleveland Clinic. The outstanding Ohio medical heart discovered a portion of its provide relationship again to November contained fraudulently branded N95 respirators bought by a third-party vendor. In a press release to CBS News, Cleveland Clinic mentioned it took “immediate steps to remove these masks from our sites and have replaced them with approved supplies” following an inner investigation.

In a press release to CBS News, the Minnesota Department of Health mentioned it prevented “500,000 counterfeit N95 respirators from being distributed to Minnesota healthcare facilities,” this month, noting the half-million imitation respirators — valued at $2.1 million — could be turned over to 3M for destruction.

As the pandemic drones on, Mayorkas suggested scammers proceed to take advantage of determined Americans, hospitals and medical suppliers “for a quick buck.” Federal investigators level to an uptick in counterfeit drugs and sham web sites claiming to promote vaccines.

“We’ve seen the entire spectrum,” HSI Acting Executive Associate Director PJ Lechleitner mentioned Wednesday. “People try to prey on individuals. We’ve seen that morph into fraudulent vaccines. So any avenue where the criminal enterprises see an entrée to make some money or defraud individuals, we’re seeing it.”

Acting Director of ICE Tae Johnson advised reporters that preliminary leads into Wednesday’s counterfeit masks seizure got here from 3M. “We sort of ran down and tracked that to its conclusion,” Johnson mentioned, including that officers consider operations to halt the large counterfeit masks scam will unfold to more states in the approaching weeks. “Our work is still underway. We’ve been investigating ‘Stolen Promises’ since April. So our work continues.”