Customs and Border Protection (CBP) stopped a shipment of over 170,000 counterfeit N95 masks from China with an estimated retail price of almost $350,000, the agency announced on Thursday.
CBP officers working at Houston Seaport on April 7 intercepted the shipment, which was headed to White Plains in New York state, according to a release.
They found 171,460 masks in boxes that had the logo of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health—a U.S. federal agency responsible for making recommendations to prevent work-related injury and illness.
But when CBP officers contacted the trademark holder, they were told that the shipment was not licensed. CBP determined that the masks were counterfeit, and turned them over to its Fines, Penalties, and Forfeiture’s office to dispose of the masks.
“Counterfeit goods not only hurt the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers, but they also pose substantial health and safety hazards for American consumers,” Houston CBP Port Director Roderick Hudson said in a statement. “In this instance, these counterfeit N95 respirators may not be effective at filtering airborne particles.”
He explained how people seeking personal protective equipment can steer clear of counterfeit and unapproved items.
“A few simple steps that consumers can take to protect themselves from becoming unsuspecting victims to those peddling counterfeit goods are to purchase goods only from reputable retailers. And when shopping online, read the seller’s reviews, check for a working U.S. phone number and a U.S. address that can be used to contact the seller," he said.
CBP seized 18 million counterfeit masks in the first three months of 2021. CBP noted for comparison that it seized about 12 million counterfeit masks in all of fiscal year 2020, and only 1,300 counterfeit masks in fiscal year 2019.
In Houston area alone, CBP has seized 2.1 million counterfeit masks, which it says is a "stark increase" from the 365,000 counterfeit masks seized in 2020.