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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

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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.

National Entrepreneurship Day: Bounce back post-Covid with the Economic Injury Disaster Loan

Today is National Entrepreneurship Day, an annual event that occurs on the third Tuesday of November to honor our nation’s entrepreneurs. 

Officially Established in 2010, then-President Barack Obama proclaimed the last day of 2010’s National Entrepreneur Week as National Entrepreneurship Day. 

In the past year, U.S. entrepreneurs have faced historic challenges in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many businesses were forced to close, faced setbacks, and financial losses. However, we have also seen great hope and innovation during this time as entrepreneurs and business owners found ways to adapt and communities came together to help each other. Additionally, this time saw a boom of new businesses established during the pandemic. 

In a White House statement for the Proclamation of National Entrepreneurship Month 2021, President Biden said, 

“In the midst of the economic disruption caused by the pandemic, Americans started more than 4 million businesses last year, a 24 percent increase from the year before — the highest number of monthly business applications on record — and start-up rates growing the most among immigrants and Black, Latino, and Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Americans.  This is important for our future success, as small businesses are the engines of our economic progress — and the heart and soul of our communities.” 

To help entrepreneurs and small business owners recover post-Covid, various programs have been established dedicated to providing aid and assistance. One program small businesses can benefit from to bounce back financially in the Covid-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). 

Economic recovery for small businesses: COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan 

The COVID-19 EIDL is a federal small business loan program that supports small businesses’ recovery from COVID-19’s economic impacts by providing accessible and borrower-friendly capital. The program is open to small business owners, including agricultural businesses, and nonprofit organizations in all U.S. states, Washington D.C., and territories. 

“The SBA’s COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan program offers a lifeline to millions of small businesses who are still being impacted by the pandemic,” SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman said in a press release

The loan comes directly from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and must be repaid. It is a low-interest, fixed-rate, long-term loan to help businesses overcome the effects of the pandemic by providing working capital to meet operating expenses. 

Proceeds can be used to make regular payments for operating expenses, including payroll, rent/mortgage, utilities, and other ordinary business expenses, and to pay business debt incurred at any time (past, present, or future). 

Maximum Loan Amount: $2 million

Loan Term: 30 years

Interest Rate:

  • Businesses: 3.75% fixed
  • Private nonprofit organizations: 2.75% fixed

Payment Deferment: Payments are deferred for the first 2 years (during which interest will accrue), and payments of principal and interest are made over the remaining 28 years. No penalty for prepayment.

For more information visit the SBA site.

How to Apply 

To be eligible, applicants must be physically located in the United States or designated territory and must have suffered working capital losses due to the Coronavirus pandemic. A comprehensive list of additional eligibility requirements can be found here

To apply, first-time COVID EIDL applicants should complete the following steps:

  1. Confirm eligibility 
  2. Complete Intake Form.
  3. Sign up to create portal username via SBA email invite.
  4. Complete portal steps and submit relevant documents.
  5. Respond to SBA requests for signature, confirmation, and documents.

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All business owners who have received previous loans through the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), or Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) can still benefit from COVID EIDL. For no-cost assistance for the COVID EIDL program, and every other SBA program, go to www.sba.gov/local-assistance and connect with a local resource partner near you.

Good news for small business from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has announced improvements to the COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program to better meet the needs of small businesses, and industries hit hardest by the pandemic. With the Delta variant, the struggle is far from over and many small businesses across the country are still in need of financial relief.  

The COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan program is on of many SBA programs offering assistance to businesses in need. The program is a federal disaster relief loan designed to better serve and support our small business communities still reeling from the pandemic, especially hard-hit sectors such as restaurants, gyms, and hotels. 

SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman. (Photo Source)

“The SBA’s COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan program offers a lifeline to millions of small businesses who are still being impacted by the pandemic,” SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman said in a press release

“We’ve retooled this critical program – increasing the borrowing limit to $2 million, offering 24 months of deferment, and expanding flexibility to allow borrowers to pay down higher-interest business debt. We have also ramped up our outreach efforts to ensure we’re connecting with our smallest businesses as well as those from low-income communities who may also be eligible for the companion COVID EIDL Targeted Advance and Supplemental Advance grants totaling up to $15,000.  Our mission-driven SBA team has been working around the clock to make the loan review process as user-friendly as possible to ensure every entrepreneur who needs help can get the capital they need to reopen, recover and rebuild,” Guzman continued. 

The SBA is ready to receive new applications immediately from small businesses looking to take advantage of these new policy changes.

Changes to the COVID EIDL program

The low-interest and long-term COVID EIDL program has helped millions of small business owners survive the impacts of the pandemic with its flexibility and affordability – allowing entrepreneurs to hire and retain employees, and purchase needed equipment and inventory.  

The SBA’s newest improvements will make the program even more flexible to meet the needs of struggling business owners. New improvements include: 

  • The SBA has increased the amount of funding that can be borrowed from $500,000 to $2 million for qualified applicants.  
  • The SBA has authorized COVID EIDL funds to be used to pay and prepay commercial debt and make payments on federal business debt in recognition of the financial reality many small businesses are facing during this crisis.
  • Small businesses will have time to recover from COVID-19 impacts by further deferring payments – up to two years after your loan origination date. 
  • Additionally, to help ensure the smallest businesses can access this crucial capital, the SBA has created a one-month exclusive window for businesses requesting $500,000. During this time, approvals and disbursements will focus 100% on loans $500,000 or less until October 8th, upon which approvals and disbursements will be opened up to all loan sizes.
  • Finally, to ease the COVID EIDL application process for small businesses, the SBA has established more simplified affiliation requirements to model those of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

You might be interested: How to still apply for Covid-19 Business Tax Credits ending Sept. 30

How to apply

Eligible small businesses, nonprofits, and agricultural businesses in all U.S. states and territories can apply. Visit www.sba.gov/eidl to learn more about eligibility and application requirements. The last day that applications may be received is December 31, 2021. All applicants should file their applications as soon as possible.

For additional information on COVID EIDL and other recovery programs please visit www.sba.gov/relief.

“As your SBA Administrator and a former small business owner myself, my goal is to make you, America’s small businesses, feel like the giants you are in our economy with programs that meet you where you are,” said Guzman.  

All business owners who have received previous loans through the SBA’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF), or Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) can still benefit from COVID EIDL. For no-cost assistance for the COVID EIDL program, and every other SBA program, go to www.sba.gov/local-assistance and connect with a local resource partner near you.

How to still apply for Covid-19 Business Tax Credits ending Sept. 30

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 has provided businesses with various relief efforts. Now, several of these programs are coming to an end September 30, however there is still time for business owners to reap the benefits of the Covid-19 business tax credits before they end. 

Qualifying for Covid-19 business tax credit 

The Covid-19 business tax credits for small businesses provide businesses with dollar-for-dollar reimbursements that employers can use to provide paid sick leave to employees who cannot work due to Covid-19. These tax credits only cover paid leave between April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021, but those who have not yet filed can do so before October 31, 2021. To receive the tax credit, employers should file Form 941, the Employer’s Quarterly Federal Tax Return,  available on the IRS site. Qualifying businesses that file this form before October 31 will be able to claim credit for the year’s third quarter– July through September. 

A blog post by Rocket Lawyer –a free legal information and consulting site– details the various qualifications for applying along with additional information and legal advising about accessing Covid-19 business tax credits. 

To qualify for the business tax credits, businesses must have fewer than 500 employees. To use the credit, employees’ absence or inability to work must be for reasons related to Covid-19 between April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021. These reasons including:  

  • Leave taken to get the COVID-19 vaccination.
  • Leave to recover from any illness or condition related to the vaccination.
  • Contracting COVID-19.
  • Caring for family members who have contracted COVID-19.
  • Quarantine periods related to COVID-19.
  • Experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and attempting to get a medical diagnosis or test result.

The credit covers both paid sick leave wages and paid family leave wages up to a certain amount. For paid sick leave wages, the credit covers up to two weeks of leave, up to $511 per day and $5,110 total. For paid family leave wages, the credit covers up to 12 weeks, up to $200 per day and $12,000 total. 

Self-employed individuals may also qualify. For additional details and guidelines visit the IRS.gov

Additional relief resources for small businesses 

While the Covid-19 business tax credits may be ending, there are still many resources for small businesses seeking relief. The Small Business Administration provides information for many COVID-19 relief programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program,  COVID-19 EIDEL, Restaurant Revitalization Fund, and more. 

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