The Hong Kong customs’ most recent seizure of fake N95 masks

US$387,000 worth of N95 masks were seized by the Hong Kong authorities

HK$3 million worth of fake N95 masks were seized by the Hong Kong authorities, the largest seizure they’ve done for N95 respirators that were destined for the market overseas. This sum of money is equivalent to around US$387,000.

The main suspect, a 71-year-old man owner of a trading company on the location, was arrested on suspicion of a violation of the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, which can carry a penalty of five years of jail time plus a fine worth HK $500,000. 100,000 counterfeit 3M N95 masks were found in a warehouse in Yuen Long last Wednesday, according to the statements made by the Customs and Excise Department.

That same day the suspect was arrested at his home in the city of Kowloon, and customs officers also raided the office of the trading company located in San Po Kong. According to Tse Kwok-Keung, the Senior Superintendent of the customs’ intellectual property investigation bureau, the masks were meant to be sold overseas and not for the local market.

He said: “We believe as the pandemic situation overseas shows no signs of abating, some merchants are trying to take this opportunity to make profits by selling counterfeit masks in markets abroad.” According to him, their investigation concluded that the counterfeit respirators were going to be sold for HK$30 per mask, when a legitimate 3M N95 mask is sold at around HK$50.

He also stated that, since the masks are usually worn by healthcare workers and medical personnel, he believed the potential users were going to be workers of hospitals and other healthcare centers overseas. Tse also said that their investigation is looking to find not only where they were destined to be sold, but also where they came from because they were not made in Hong Kong. He added that the respirators could be easily spotted as fakes because they had blurred fonts printed on them.

The main suspect was released on bail while further investigation is being made. But, the problem with counterfeit products has been ongoing since the beginning of the year. Since January 27, 3,800 retail outlets where PPE was being sold have been inspected in Hong Kong, and 80 people have been arrested so far.

N95 masks: a brief explanation, and why they’ve been the target for scams this year

N95 masks are the best disposable face mask for virus protection we have available today. They’re more effective for protection against the virus that is causing the pandemic than surgical face masks or reusable cloth masks. For this reason, they’re the type of disposable face mask healthcare personnel need to use while they’re working, since they are in constant exposure to the virus.

The name ‘N95’ is about the NIOSH classification for respirators, a filtration rate used in the United States to classify respirators according to certain characteristics. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is in charge of preventing work-related injuries or illnesses, and part of their job is to test and regulate respirators that are used as PPE to make sure they meet the criteria for each class.

An N95 respirator, according to the classification, is any type of respirator that isn’t resistant to oil, indicated with the ‘N’, and has a percentage of minimum particulate filtration efficacy of 95%. This makes N95 masks effective for protection against non-oil based particles, such as smoke, dust, or the flu virus and the coronavirus. This is why they need to be prioritized for healthcare workers.

How to spot counterfeit N95 respirators

Knowing how to recognize a true N95 mask is very important information right now. Many people began to buy this item in bulk or wholesale, especially 3M models like the 3M 8210 and 3M 8511. But, anyone who uses counterfeit masks is at risk of exposure to the virus.

The most important thing to look for in an N95 respirator is the approval label by NIOSH. This can be found on the packaging, inside the box, or on the instructions, and an abbreviated approval will be within the mask itself too.

To be 100% sure, you can also search the approval number from the label on the NIOSH Trusted-Source page. Since the pandemic began, NIOSH has granted emergency approvals to many products without previous certification, so in this list, you can find all the approved N95 masks.

Other characteristics you can look for include:

  • When N95 masks are marketed to be used by both adults and children, this can be a very good indicator that it’s a fake. Regular N95 masks are designed in a size intended to be used for adults because kids need a smaller size for the mask to fit them properly.
  • The use of ear loops instead of headbands is another indicator because ear loops don’t secure the mask properly to the face, leaving room for leakage.
  • Decorations like sequins or being made with different types of colorful fabrics aren’t a characteristic seen on official N95 masks.
  • In addition to not having the NIOSH approval label at all, counterfeit N95 respirators tend to misspell the acronym, the most common one being ‘NOISH’.
  • Other minor mistakes like not having instructions included, or not stating a filtration efficacy of 95%.

You can read more information on this topic on the CDC website.

If you’re looking to buy any other type of PPE, including face shields or KN95 masks for sale online, always look for reliable sources. 

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