The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported on Thursday, April 15, it had intercepted a package of over 170,000 fake N95 masks from China, with an approximate retail value of nearly $350,000.

The shipment of counterfeit ‘made in China’ masks was on its way to White Plains, New York, before being seized by CBP staff on April 7, the agency said.

The CBP discovered that all 171,460 masks bear the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) logo, a government agency in the United States charged with making guidelines to avoid workplace accidents and diseases in the United States.

These false masks violate the NIOSH trademark, according to CBP.

When CBP officers approached the logo owner, they were informed that the shipment had not been authorized. 

“Counterfeit goods not only hurt the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers, but they also pose substantial health and safety hazards for American consumers,” Houston CBP Port Director Roderick Hudson stated.

“In this instance, these counterfeit N95 respirators may not be effective at filtering airborne particles,” Hudson said.

Hudson cautioned consumers to remain alert for counterfeit and unlicensed Personal Protective Equipment.

“A few simple steps that consumers can take to protect themselves from becoming unsuspecting victims to those peddling counterfeit goods are to purchase goods only from reputable retailers. And when shopping online, read the seller’s reviews, check for a working U.S. phone number and a U.S. address that can be used to contact the seller,” he noted.

In the first three months of 2021, the CBP confiscated 18 million counterfeit face masks. For comparison, the agency seized approximately 12 million fake face masks in the financial year 2020 and just 1,300 in the financial year 2019.

The CBP has confiscated 2.1 million fake masks in Houston only between January and March, which it claimed is a “stark increase” from the 365,000 imitation face masks intercepted in total in 2020.

The confiscated fake masks were handed over to the Fines, Penalties, and Forfeiture office to be discarded.

The CBP handled $2.4 trillion in imports in the fiscal year 2020, and by the end of the financial year 2019, it recorded more than 23,700 seizures of counterfeit goods, with an estimated value of $1.2 billion.

Here is how to identify a NIOSH-approved respirator, according to The National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL)

An authorized mark on or inside the package of NIOSH-approved respirators (i.e., on the package itself and/or inside the users’ guidelines) may be found on or inside the packaging of the respirator. On the filtering facepiece respirator (FFR) itself, there is also an abbreviated acceptance.

You can check whether the respirator has been authorized by NIOSH by looking up the approval number on the NIOSH Certified Equipment List (CEL) or the NIOSH Trusted-Source list. N95, N99, N100, R95, R99, R100, P95, P99, P100 are all NIOSH-approved FFRs.

These are signs of a fake respirator:

  • The filtering facepiece respirator has no labels at all.
  • On the filtering facepiece respirator or headband, there is no authorized (TC) number.
  • There are no NIOSH symbols on this item.
  • The acronym NIOSH is misspelled.
  • The existence of decorated fabric or other embellishments (e.g., sequins)
  • For the acceptance of children’s claims (NIOSH does not approve any respiratory protection for children)
  • Instead of headbands, the filtering facepiece respirator has ear loops.