Beware of fake N95 masks that have flooded the market.

FILE PHOTO: N95 respiration masks at a laboratory of 3M, contracted by the U.S. government to produce extra marks in response to the country's novel coronavirus outbreak, in Maplewood, Minnesota, U.S. Picture taken March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi/File Photo

There is one constant about facemasks that have not changed during the pandemic, everyone should wear one.

MEXICO CITY (Times Media Mexico) – Since the pandemic began, all health experts have declared that facemask use is vitally crucial for contagion control. By the end of 2020, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized more than 14.6 million counterfeit facemasks entering the country.

N95s are the gold standard for facemasks, but counterfeit imitations can threaten people’s safety. Failure to meet U.S. safety standards means such products may not filter airborne particles effectively, the agency explained.

The diffrences in facemasks.
There are 3 types of masks.
– Cloth masks
– Surgical masks
– Filtering facepieces or respirators.

In the United States, this last ones are called N95, in China KN95 and in Europe FFP1 and FFp2 (FFP stands for Filtering Facepieces).

The filtering facepieces offer the highest protection and the N95 designation indicates that they filter at least 95% of airborne particles.

According to WHO, people who should wear a respirator are:

  • Health care workers.
  • People with symptoms of covid-19.
  • People who come into contact with them.
  • People over 60 years of age and people with underlying medical conditions.
Masks comparison chart by:

Here’s how you can spot a fake N95 mask.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This division focuses on worker safety and health.

Filtering facepiece respirators- a technical term that includes N95 respirators- must be certified by NIOSH before being used in any workplace.

However, an N95 respirator only gets a seal of approval from the institute when it filters out at least 95% of airborne particles.

To know whether an N95 mask is a fake or not, the NIOSH markings are the compass. But there’s some research you can do before you even hold a mask in your hand.

What to consider before buying an N95 mask?
When shopping for masks online, there are a few things you can ask yourself. Here’s how CDC’s guidance on how to spot counterfeit personal protective equipment.

If you’re buying directly through a website:
– Are there typos, bad grammar, or other mistakes on the site?
– Are there flaws on the website, such as blank or unfinished pages, filler text, links that don’t work, and misspelled domains?

If you are buying on a third-party commerce platform:
– Is the product described as “genuine” or “real”? Legitimate companies don’t need to tell buyers that their products are real. At least not in the product name.
– Are there reviews about the product or the seller? Disgruntled buyers may reveal how defective the product is or whether it is illegitimate.
– Is the price too good to be true? It’s probably a fake facemask.
– Does the seller market the same items over time or follow trends? Legitimate businesses tend to be consistent.
– Does the seller put their contact information in images? If so, they may be circumventing the platform’s policy about keeping interactions between buyers and sellers on the site.

How to be certain that your N95 mask is real.
But what if you already bought masks from a website or trading platform, and you don’t know if they’re real?

Here’s your rule of thumb: no markings means it’s not approved.

NIOSH-approved masks have an approval label on them or inside their packaging. It may be on the box or the user instructions. The respirator should also have an abbreviated approval mark.

The approval number on your mask must begin with “TC.” The product should also have the NIOSH logo printed on it. This CDC image can help you identify the markings on your respirator.

You can then check the approval number on the list of NIOSH-certified equipment.

Other warning signs to watch for include:
– Any decorative elements.
– Ear straps instead of headbands. Headbands are crucial to the snug fit of the N95.
– Approval claims for children. NIOSH does not clear masks for children.

CDC and NIOSH have resources to help you spot counterfeit masks or even other imitation personal protective equipment and medical equipment. You can start here and get more tips on how to test for masks. You can also look at photos of non-NIOSH-approved masks.

Do you have a counterfeit N95 mask? Report it. Counterfeit masks aren’t the only counterfeit products being sold. Nor are they the only scam to profit from the pandemic.

Criminal organizations are also trying to sell counterfeit pharmaceuticals, other personal protective items, and medical devices to “unsuspecting American consumers,” John Leonard, executive director of CBP’s Trade Policy and Programs, told CNN.

Covid-19 has been a fertile time for scams of all kinds to proliferate, most recently regarding vaccines. In the United States, you can report any counterfeit masks to CBP through its reporting system.