Demand for N95s, KN95s and KF94s has skyrocketed, and, unfortunately, so have counterfeit masks.
In 2020, ECRI reported 60 to 70 percent of KN95s it tested didn't properly filter 95 percent of particles as they claimed, according to The New York Times. In the same year, U.S. agencies seized 21.2 million fake N95s, a problem that carried over into 2021 and now 2022.
The best way to find legitimate masks is to buy from reputable manufacturers and trusted retailers, reports the Times. However, it can be challenging to discern expertly copied masks from real ones. Below are tips for spotting fake masks, from both the CDC and the Times.
Eight tips for spotting fake N95, KN95 or KF94 masks:
1. It's a warning sign if packing isn't tamper-proof. Legitimate masks are normally sealed to make it clear no one besides the manufacturer has handled the masks.
2. Company or location information about where the masks were manufactured should be provided, along with a real website or physical address to contact the manufacturer.
3. There should be an expiration date, because the particle-repelling electrostatic charge on respirator masks degrades over time.
4. It's a red flag if packaging states a mask is "FDA approved." N95s are approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, not the FDA, though a surgical N95 must also be cleared by the FDA. Neither agency provides "certificates of approval."
5. Packaging that states "genuine," "legitimate," "authentic," or "reputable" should be viewed with skepticism. Established, trusted companies don't need to claim themselves as such.
6. Typos or grammatical errors are also a red flag.
7. The name of the company or logo should be right on the mask.
8. Masks shouldn't have any quality issues that affect fit and consistency, such as a crooked nose-bridge wire or elastics that lose stretch or detach easily.
Tips for N95s
- The NIOSH mark should be in block letters and easily detectable.
- There should be an approval number on the mask, or the bands starting with "TC-84A" and followed by four more numbers.
- Legitimate N95s never have ear loops, but instead elastic bands that go around the back of the head.
- There aren't N95 masks for children. Only adult-size masks undergo NIOSH approval.
Tips for KN95s, KF94s
- KN95 masks made after July 1, 2021, must be stamped with GB2626-2019. A mask with a GB number ending in 2006 was made according to the previous standard and is still legitimate if not past the expiration date.
- Packaging may state that KN95s or KF94s are FDA-registered or -listed, but this just means the manufacturer has filed paperwork to notify the FDA of its existence.