By Hannah Rhodes, Consumer Watchdog Associate
March 11, 2022
While all counterfeits can potentially carry health and safety risks, counterfeit products related to COVID-19 prevention or testing are especially concerning. The false safety sense with fake COVID-19 at-home tests or counterfeit masks can directly affect consumer’s health.
During fiscal 2020, U.S Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials confiscated 12.7 million counterfeit face masks and 180,000 prohibited COVID-19 test kits. The number of counterfeit masks continues to grow with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimating that about 60% of the KN95 respirators the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) evaluated during 2020 and 2021 failed to meet requirements.
Whether shopping for COVID-19 at-home tests or masks, these tips can help you decipher between counterfeit and authentic products.
Tips when shopping for COVID-19 at-home tests:
COVID-19 at-home tests sold at brick and mortar stores are more trustworthy than those sold online. The best places to purchase COVID-19 at-home tests are the retailers you already know and shop at.
If you decide to shop online for COVID-19 at-home tests, use a credit card. When purchasing an at-home test, or any other product where it is difficult to verify the authenticity, you can use a credit card so you can dispute the charges with your credit card company if the product never arrives in the mail.
Tips when shopping for masks:
The FDA does not approve N95 masks, NIOSH does. If an N95 or other masks listed below come in packaging that says “FDA approved,” it’s a good sign that it is a counterfeit. The FDA only approves surgical N95 masks.
The CDC lists other ways to identify a counterfeit mask when looking for NIOSH approval for N95, N99, N100, P95 and P100 masks:
No markings at all on the filtering facepiece respirator.
No approval (TC) number on filtering facepiece respirator or headband.
No NIOSH markings.
NIOSH spelled incorrectly.
Presence of decorative fabric or other decorative add-ons.
Claims for the of approval for children.
A filtering facepiece respirator that has ear loops instead of headbands.
Real KN95s have a GB marking. A KN95 must be stamped with GB2626-2019 to be in accordance with new Chinese standards. A mask with a GB number ending in 2006 was made according to the previous standard and is still good to use if the expiration date has not passed.
If a KN95 mask has an “FDA approval” or an approval from any other American government agency, it is a fake. KN95s are manufactured in China and imported to the United States. American government agencies do not test these products, though they are allowed to be used.
Masks come with expiration dates. Whether a N95 or a KN95, they all come with expiration dates. If you cannot locate an expiration date, it’s more than likely the mask is a counterfeit.
Prices matter. When purchasing a legitimate, high-quality mask (not a cloth or surgical mask,) the price should be around $2 to $3 per mask unless purchasing a very large quantity. With COVID-19 at-home tests, prices can vary from about $15 for one test to up to about $25 for a two-pack. Prices may be more inflated, but if the price of an at-home COVID-19 test is much cheaper than the average selling price, the test may be untrustworthy.
Look at the spelling. Whether it’s an online listing or the package you receive, any misspellings and mislabelings can be a sign of a counterfeit product.
If you can tamper with the product, it’s not legitimate. Packaging is important. If you’re able to access the mask immediately, with no packaging that proves you would be the first person to open it, there’s a good chance it’s a counterfeit mask. Similarly with COVID-19 at-home tests, the packaging should indicate you were the first person to access the inside of the product.
Be leery of a seller boasting about “unlimited supply.” When there is a COVID surge or a run on masks, it’s unlikely that any supplier has access to unlimited masks or COVID-19 at-home tests. This phrasing should be a red flag to any shopper.