Avoid PPE Scams: 10 Tips For Consumers When Purchasing Online

Avoid PPE Scams: 10 Tips For Consumers When Purchasing Online

Counterfeiters always find a way to capitalize during pandemics by selling fraudulent products, but this COVID-19 pandemic has seen unprecedented amounts of fraud. You may be wondering why this is. It comes down to one factor - the internet. While consumers are buying PPE more through online channels, fraudulent products are also easier to sell and promote through the same channels. 

The FDA has created legislation to prevent fraudulent products, date back to the first piece of legislation they made in 1906. The Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906 and the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. During this current pandemic, the FDA has seen an uptick in the counterfeit sale of purported vaccines, diagnostic tests, and dietary supplements. 

Counterfeit Scams During Pandemics 

Previous pandemics have prepped the FDA on how to prepare for counterfeiters. During the 2003 pandemic, the FTC partnered with the FDA in finding multiple websites that sold Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome products to the public. These websites made false claims that their products would cure people of the disease. Other product offerings on the websites included air purifiers, hand sanitizers, latex gloves, masks, and prevention kits. 

The H1N1 influenza virus in 2009 brought an influx of counterfeit drugs. In response to the 2009 pandemic, The FDA issued a EUA (emergency use authorization) as they’ve done now with the Covid-19 vaccines, but in 2009 the EUA was for the antiviral drug Tamiflu. 

Depending on the fake product peddlers are selling, consumers are not only being taken advantage of, but they’re unknowingly at risk of serious illness from the counterfeit products. They may contain contaminants from subpar manufacturing standards or other unknown dangerous substances. According to the FDA, we face another public health threat from scammers selling fake PPE.  

Actions to Fight PPE Scams

To mitigate this public health risk, the FDA partnered with the FTC (as they historically have done) to oversee the sale and promotion of products related to the pandemic. FDA oversight helps ensure U.S. consumers have access to safe and effective medical products. A few warning letters were sent back in March to a few different companies that provided faulty claims about their products’ effectiveness. The FDA and FTC sent these warning letters because the companies promoted their products’ conclusive benefits without submitting to the FDA.  in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Federal Trade Commission Act.

FDA’s COVID-19 Fraud Task Force

The FDA has assembled a task force across multiple agencies to address the paramount concern of PPE scams. The task force includes special agent investigators who specialize in compliance and enforcement, health fraud, and cybercrime. They can issue warning letters to companies who have promoted PPE scams. If a company continues to promote faulty PPE products after being warned, the task force can use many tools such as debarments, criminal investigations, and civil injunctions.  

“Operation Quack Hack” was created in March of 2020 in response to the unprecedented challenge of the internet, which allows sellers to frequently and quickly move, delete, change, and post products online. 

You still have to navigate through the many online companies that currently exist when purchasing PPE. How do you make sure you are buying quality PPE from a trusted company? 


We created a list of 10 Helpful tips for vetting PPE companies: 


    • Check for product certification - you can always view the boxes and labels to check if they’ve been certified. Checking for certification is essential, especially when purchasing masks and gloves.  

    • You should ONLY purchase PPE from registered distribution partners! When a company registers with the government, they receive a CAGE (Commercial and Government Entity) number. 

    • Verify that the PPE products line up with the company’s industry - if a company has been around for a long time providing clothing and suddenly pivots to selling respirators, you may want to reconsider purchasing from them. It’s best to buy from a company that specializes in the medical industry.

    • Beware of companies that make unrealistic claims – If suppliers make claims about their products that are not backed by the label or any data, think twice before placing your order! If a seller cannot substantiate a claim, then it’s most likely a faulty claim. 

    • Check to see if the manufacturer holds FDA registration for their products – keep in mind that the FDA does not issue sellers’ certifications. A seller may provide a certification letter that includes information showing they have registered with the FDA. If the seller provides a certification letter and claims that they have been certified by the FDA, that should warn you.
  • When purchasing N95’s, make sure they are on the NIOSH approved list. Check the product and model number to see if it matches up with the NIOSH website. If the model/product number on the product is different than the NIOSH website, this may be a fraudulent PPE company.

  • If you are purchasing KN95 masks, check if the manufacturer is on the approved Chinese supplier’s list.  
      • Ask for the HHS code if you are purchasing N95’s or KN95’s from outside the country.  Every import of PPE products has an HHS code. This code will indicate if the company is importing masks for medical use or general non-medical use. If you are buying PPE strictly for the healthcare setting, make sure the HHS code reflects that use.

      • Ask for product test reports - standard test reports include BFE tests, PFE tests, ASTM II certification, and CE certification test reports. You can also check for 3rd party testing, ideally from US laboratories.  Test reports provide additional peace of mind when purchasing PPE through company websites. 

    Leave a comment

    Please note, comments must be approved before they are published