Cantwell Requests Federal Trade Commission Investigate Counterfeit N95 Masks Given to Washington Hospitals

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On February 19, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, wrote to Rebecca Slaughter, the Acting Chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), requesting the FTC open an investigation into the counterfeit N95 masks given to Washington state hospitals and use its authority to crack down on scams relating to COVID-19.

“On Friday, February 5, the Washington State Hospital Association alerted dozens of Washington hospitals that up to two million N95 respirators believed to be purchased from 3M were counterfeit and should not be relied on to protect healthcare workers from infection by the COVID-19 coronavirus,” Cantwell wrote. “The scale of this fraud is extremely disconcerting, particularly with the alarming spread of more infectious and perhaps more virulent virus strains. Given the risks that counterfeit masks pose to America’s frontline heroes, I ask that that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) immediately investigate this scam and crack down on counterfeit personal protective equipment (PPE).”

In the letter Cantwell pointed to new authorities she helped secure for the FTC that would allow the agency to fine first-time offenses and outlined the alarming rise in reported scams relating to the ongoing pandemic.

“Last December, Congress provided the Commission new first-time civil-penalty authority for deceptive practices related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I hope this authority will be used aggressively to protect the public during the ongoing health emergency,” Cantwell wrote. “The Commission’s own data indicates they have identified over 350,000 reports of fraud, identity theft, and other deceptive practices related to the pandemic, totaling more than $340 million. In Washington state, consumers reportedly have been scammed out of more than $8 million since the pandemic began.”

The letter also suggested that the FTC work with other federal agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to identify and block the importation and distribution of counterfeit PPE equipment.

“Our heroic health care workers are already under incredible strain; the last thing they need to be worried about is whether the masks they are using are going to protect them while they fight to save the lives of their patients. I hope your investigation will be able to quickly identify these unscrupulous sellers and the scope of their crimes so that the medical community will be confident that their vital PPE equipment is safe and effective,” the letter concludes.

The full text of the letter is available HERE.