HSI, CBP seize more than 200,000 counterfeit surgical masks intended for hospital workers

Contributed Photo/Courtesy ICE: HSI seized more than 200,000 counterfeit 3M N95 masks that were bound for use by healthcare workers.

Contributed Article/Courtesy ICE

PHOENIX – More than 200,000 counterfeit 3M N95 surgical masks intended to be shipped and used by medical staff throughout the nation have been seized in the last 45 days by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The estimated MSRP is over one million U.S. dollars.

“Homeland Security Investigations and our partner agencies are committed to identify and seize these potentially hazardous medical products before they could harm our frontline workers,” said Scott Brown, special agent in charge for HSI Phoenix. “These seizures illustrate the ongoing efforts of HSI, CBP, and private industry in keeping our communities and medical staff safe and free from counterfeit products. Often, this battle is fought behind the scenes and unknown to the general public, but they can be assured that our mission remains firmly committed to protecting the health and safety of our medical workers, no matter what.”

Late October, federal officers assigned to the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport queried shipments for a local area company, while targeting inbound commercial shipments. During the enforcement operation, federal agents examined a shipment imported and found it contained 3M N95 masks. One sample mask was removed from the shipment and through a long-standing partnership between HSI and 3M, it was determined that the mask was counterfeit.

In early December, HSI and the Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General (VA OIG) conducted a consensual examination at a small business regarding 3M N95 masks. This small business was conducting transactions with a related company currently under investigation for selling counterfeit masks. During the consensual examination, HSI special agents discovered the same counterfeit 3M N95 masks as the ones secured at the airport just a month earlier. More than 20,000 counterfeit 3M N95 masks were seized at their warehouse.

As a result of the ongoing investigation, HSI special agents successfully recalled and seized an additional 10 pallets containing 95,480 counterfeit 3M N95 masks that were already shipped to hospitals throughout the nation for healthcare workers’ use.

To date, the Joint Prosecution and Enforcement Group (JPEG) which is comprised of CBP officers and HSI special agents assigned to the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has seized 90,480 counterfeit 3M N95 masks at the airport as well as another 122,000 counterfeit 3M N95 masks related to the original seizure for a total of 212,480 counterfeit 3M N95 masks.

Contributed Photo/Courtesy ICE: The counterfeit 3M N95 masks were seized.

“Customs and Border Protection is committed to protecting the American consumer against the substandard and potentially unsafe counterfeit consumer goods,” said Guadalupe Ramirez, Director of CBP’s Tucson Field Office. “Enforcing Intellectual Property Rights laws is a CBP priority trade mission. We will continue to work closely with our trade and law enforcement partners to identify and seize counterfeit merchandise that could potentially harm our Nation’s consumers and businesses.”

“As the federal entity responsible for conducting oversight of the nation’s largest integrated health care system, the VA Office of Inspector General is committed to ensuring all health care workers receive genuine, high-quality personal protective equipment, said Anthony Russo, resident agent in charge for the VA OIG Criminal Division. “The VA OIG will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to aggressively pursue any bad actors attempting to introduce counterfeit products into the VA and other medical supply chains.”

Contributed Photo/Courtesy ICE: A HSI employee inspects a package of counterfeit 3M N95 masks.

ICE HSI launched Operation Stolen Promise in April to protect U.S. consumers from the increasing and evolving threat posed by the pandemic. The operation involves various federal agencies, including CBP, the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, and multiple private sector partners including Pfizer, 3M, Amazon, and others.

Operation Stolen Promise combines ICE HSI’s expertise in global trade, financial fraud, international operations, and cybercrime to investigate financial fraud schemes, the importation of prohibited pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, offending e-commerce schemes, and any other illicit criminal activities associated with the COVID-19 virus that may compromise legitimate trade, financial systems and/or endangers the public.

HSI is investigating these seizures with assistance from CBP. For more information or to report COVID fraud, visit the Operation Stolen Promise website or email covid19fraud@dhs.gov if you suspect you have been shipped or are in possession of suspected counterfeit medical supplies.

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