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FBI warns of scams involving personal protective equipment

Hospitals are struggling to find masks, gloves and other medical equipment in the fight against COVID-19.

Now, the FBI is warning of scammers trying to rip off those in need.

Scammers are promising critical health care equipment to hospitals, health care providers and first responders, saying they have masks, gloves and other medical supplies needed most by those on the front lines.

With pressure to obtain these materials, purchasers may fall victim to false promises.

“Do they even have the items to begin with, and if they say they have those items, you want to ask for a picture of those items. If you look at the pictures, does it look like it’s a stock photo that they were able to download from the internet and send it to you? Even if they provide a picture with them standing in front of the items themselves, it begs the question are these items legitimate or are they counterfeit?” said Andrew Sekela, FBI special agent in Tampa.

We got an email from someone concerned the facemasks he bought online were not legit. He sent us pictures and we sent them to Collier County EMS Chief Tabitha Butcher.

“It’s a mask that’s manufactured in China, basically to mimic the N95 mask,” she said. “However, it hasn’t been approved by the FDA to be imported into the US for use at this time.”

She says the government is trying to make it easier for people to recognize what will and will not work when it comes to protection.

“There’s a list of about 79 approved masks that could be used to properly filter out microorganisms or any contaminants that are in the air,” Butcher said. “There are several markings that are required to be on the mask; they’re all listed on the CDC website. For instance, the manufacturer, the approval number from the National Institute of Safety and Health as well as, typically, the lot number.”

It’s critical that purchasers look out for the following:

  • Unusual payment terms – is the seller asking for upfront money?
  • Last-minute price changes
  • Excuses for delay in shipment (e.g., claims that the equipment was seized at port or stuck in customs)
  • Unexplained source of bulk supply

The FBI recommends buyers be cautious when dealing with any new vendors or identified third-party brokers making promises to beat all other suppliers.

Additionally, they want everyone to be alert to people selling products that are promised to prevent, diagnose or cure the coronavirus.

Butcher says right now her EMS crews are stocked on PPE, but are looking for more from the state and feds. For now, she is allowing mask re-use for 24 hours if they are undamaged and if they haven’t been exposed to contaminants.

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Reporter:Rich Kolko
Writer:WINK News
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