All across the country, lawmakers are warning about the dangers of counterfeit face masks.
In Nassau County, New York, investigators recently seized thousands of unapproved face masks from a warehouse on Long Island.
"If you're a healthcare worker or a grocery store worker and you're depending on this for your health and your safety, you need to know that it is a legit product," said Nassau County Executive Laura Curran.
In Illinois, a recent a recent health alert warned the public about counterfeit face masks that are "reportedly flooding the market." The alert suggested healthcare workers immediately "remove from service any KN95s [face masks] that had already been received."
So Inside Edition sent a team of producers shopping for face masks to see what they would find.
At a hardware store in New York City, the clerk behind the counter said the demand for face masks is so high that suppliers can't keep up. He told our producers the face masks he sold us were purchased from, “some guy who called us and we had to meet him on the street and give him cash.”
It sounded a little strange, so Inside Edition's investigative unit tracked down the supplier and ordered 100 face masks for $390.
We arranged to meet the supplier in the heart of Times Square.
A white SUV pulled up and the guy inside handed over a bag full of masks.
Many of them were labeled N95 and appeared to be government-approved.
“Are they all FDA certified?” our producer asked.
“Yes. All of them," the driver replied.
But that’s not true, according to NYU professor Dr. Jack Caravanos, a leading expert on environmental health, who examined the masks at Inside Edition’s request.
"Well right away there are all sorts of red flags with the masks that you purchased,” he said.
"For example, the mask that you bought right here, this says ‘N95,’ but it is not an N95."
Caravanos explained how he knew the mask was not a certified N95, which are the face masks that doctors and nurses rely on to keep them safe.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, a properly certified N95 face mask can block 95 percent of small particles from penetrating the mask.
"And when you take it out of the box, I can tell right away it's not an N95," said Caravanos.
"Why? Well right here, these straps going around your ears like this, means it’s not a CDC-approved N95.” He explained that certified N95 masks must have straps that go around the back or your head.
So Inside Edition rented a van to pick up an additional 3,000 masks, this time meeting with the boss of the operation.
"How are you getting these? I mean, they're so hard to find,” a producer asked.
“I manufacture them in China," the man answered. "We sell to hospitals. We sell to other people. You know, whoever needs them."
It was then that the seller was met by Inside Edition correspondent Steven Fabian.
"We'd like to ask you about these fake masks you're selling on the internet,” Fabian said.
"Wait, wait, wait,” the man replied.
"You're selling N95 masks and they're not certified by the CDC,” Fabian said.
"I'm not!" the man replied.
“You’re not selling us these masks? These were masks that we bought from you,” Fabian said.
The man denied selling Inside Edition any masks and when asked if he was trying to make money off the pandemic, he said “absolutely not.”
Hours later, the company's website was suddenly taken down. According to the State of New York Division of Corporation's website, the company was not currently licensed by the state.