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Feds issue warning after seizing millions of counterfeit masks

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Federal agents seized 1 million counterfeit N95 masks from a Maryland warehouse that were headed to the front lines in the battle against COVID-19. Some health care facilities have already spent millions on the fakes. Jeff Pegues reports.

Video Transcript

- A year into the pandemic, healthcare workers are still clamoring for N95 masks. And tonight federal agents have seized a warehouse full of them, all fake. Turns out, millions have been sold to unwitting hospitals around the country.

CBS's Jeff Pegues with more on the investigation.

JEFF PEGUES: Today, federal agents seized one million counterfeit masks in this western Maryland warehouse. What they've uncovered are pallets full of fake N95 masks that were headed to the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19.

Washington State's hospital system spent $8 million on N95 masks that turned out to be fake. They actually passed their inspections process because they looked like the real thing.

CASSIE SAUER: They're really, really good fakes. They look, they fit, they breathe, they wear like a real 3M N95 mask.

JEFF PEGUES: In recent weeks, approximately 11 million counterfeit N95 masks have been seized in five states. And while the packaging says that these are the coveted 3M N95 Respirator Masks, they aren't.

Today, Department of Homeland Security officials allege that the fake masks are coming in from China.

STEVE FRANCIS: They're extremely dangerous, right. They're providing a false sense of security to our first-line responders.

JEFF PEGUES: If you put them side by side, the only way to tell the real thing from the fakes may be the code at the bottom of the mask, which 3M says can help verify its authenticity.

KEVIN RHODES: They're not interested in making high-quality products that protect wearers. They're interested in making as many counterfeit products as they can, as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

JEFF PEGUES: By the way, Washington State's hospital system doesn't know if it's going to get that $8 million back. Nora?

- And, Jeff, in order to tell if your mask is fake, what do you do with the code that's on those masks?

JEFF PEGUES: Yeah, the best thing to do is take that code, go to the 3M website, they have a Fraud section there, and see if the numbers match up. And that's how you'll know that it's the real thing.

- Jeff Pegues, thank you.