6 Tips to spot counterfeit N95, KN95, and KF94 masks when shopping online

With the more contagious COVID-19 omicron variant on the rise, mask mandates are returning, especially indoors and while traveling. Even if your state has not reinstated a mask mandate, health officials recommend mask usage to prevent the spread of omicron. 

For the past two years, masks have become commonplace and easy to buy, both instores and online. However, with the rise of mask retailers, many fakes and counterfeit COVID-19 masks have also emerged from third party marketplaces. 

Currently, the top recommended masks for the best protection against omicron and other COVID-19 variants are the N95, KN95, and KF94. 

As you shop for your next mask to combat the omicron surge, these tips will help you steer clear of counterfeit COVID-19 masks and fakes sellers online. 

6 Tips to spot a counterfeit COVID-19 mask and find reliable sellers 

1. Listing claims to be “legitimate” and “genuine”

According to the CDC, listings that claim to be “legitimate” and “genuine” in their product descriptions often are not. Product listings that appear to be overselling the fact that they are legitimate are likely fakes, especially on third party marketplaces. If the product overly boasts it’s reputability, it might be worth doing some further digging into the seller and the product quality through other methods listed below. 

2. It’s too good to be true

Like the previous tip, this is another way to weed out the fakes. Are there price changes or swings? Is the mask priced at a significantly lower amount compared to other retailers and competition? Does the seller boast an “unlimited stock”, even during times of global mask shortage, especially for highly sought respirator masks such as the N95? If so, these are signs that the product is likely not legitimate. 

Take the time to read through customer reviews. (Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash)

3. Read customer reviews 

Another method to ensure you receive a legitimate mask, is to read what other buyers have said about the product. Be sure to read not only the positive reviews but the negative as well. The negative reviews will tell you what issues to look out for and can alert you to the possibility of counterfeit products. The amount of reviews a product has also can give you a sense of the seller’s sales record. Products with more reviews likely have made more sales and, if the reviews are good, then the product is more likely to be legitimate. Still, be on the lookout for reviews that seem automated or generic. Some untrustworthy retailers may plant fake positive reviews to sway buyers. 

4. Check the packaging 

Legitimate COVID-19 masks and respirators should come in sealed packaging. You should be the first to open it. If the packaging is flimsy or looks to have been tampered with or there is no appropriate packing at all, then this is a red flag. 

Additionally, respirator masks require an expiration date because the particle-repelling electrostatic charge on these masks degrades over time. If there is no expiration date on your respirator mask, that is also a red flag. 

5. Inconsistencies on seller’s website and contact information 

Another guideline from the CDC is to check the seller’s site for inconsistencies and errors. They advise to: 

  • Look for bad grammar, typos, and other errors.
  • Watch for cookie-cutter websites, where the sellers interchange several websites, making mistakes.
  • Mixing up names/logos
  • Leaving the site partially undone with dummy text
  • Blank pages
  • An odd privacy policy page and/or broken links.
  • Domain squatting type activity (misspell the domain).

The seller should also provide contact information that is legitimate. Most third party marketplaces require the seller and buyer to interact within an on-site messaging system. Sellers should not try to bypass this system to display personal contact information, says CDC guidelines

You might be interested: What to expect from Omicron flight cancellations and new travel requirements

Legit masks will have approval numbers and proper logo and spelling. (Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash)

6. There’s no branding, incorrect logo and spelling, and missing approval number

Lastly, a big red flag is if your mask or respirator lacks proper branding, logo, or approval number. Counterfeit COVID-19 masks may look like a legitimate brand, but the logo may be wrong or the brand name has been misspelled. 

On respirator masks such as N95, NIOSH—spelled correctly—should be in block letters. Additionally, legitimate N95 masks have approval numbers that start with the letters “TC-84A,” followed by four additional digits. This number can be found on the mask or the bands. You can check the number on the NIOSH Certified Equipment List.

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