A year after the coronavirus epidemic, buying heavy medical masks online is still incredibly frustrating.
The most coveted mask to stay safe against Covid-19 is the N95, the gold standard for pandemic protection because it fits snugly and is 95% effective at filtering airborne particles. Then there is KN95 from China, a mask for medical personnel, which also provides a high filtration capacity and is somewhat looser.
But these masks are not easy to buy on the internet. When pandemics struck last year, they immediately became scarce as health workers and government flocked to find them. The demand was so great that a gray market emerged for them.
However, even as supplies have improved, it’s often not easy to find the authentic N95 and KN95 online. That’s because there are very few branded manufacturers, so it is difficult to know which of the dozens of reliable manufacturers. And counterfeiters continue to flood the market, even on trusted sites like Amazon.
The result is often disappointing, when wearing a heavy mask is more important than ever. Last week, federal health officials stressed that we all need to wear full face masks as new coronaviruses spread quickly.
“People don’t know what’s legal and they don’t know what suppliers are,” said Anne Miller, executive director of Project N95, a nonprofit that helps people buy anti-coronavirus equipment. legal. “We have had that problem since the beginning of the pandemic.”
Lately, I’ve spent hours and hours comparing masks online and almost buying a package of fake goods on Amazon. Thankfully, I avoided falling into the trap and finally found a legal, high-quality mask from a trusted online retailer.
Along the way, I learned a lot about how to spot phishing mask lists and how to ignore fake reviews. So here’s how to go home with real medical masks that will keep you and your loved ones safe.
Choose a mask
My journey started on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website. There, I found charts of N95 and KN95 masks that the agency tested, including production, model number, and filter effect.
After some reading, I learned about the balance between the two masks. The N95 usually has bands on the back of your head, which is what makes them fit snugly. They may be uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time.
The KN95, approved by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use by medical personnel, has an ear ring for a snug fit and a bit more comfortable than the N95. The downside is that the KN95 leaks a little more air than the N95.
If you regularly stay in high-risk areas like hospitals, the N95s may be more suitable. But if you just need a protective mask for more casual use, like going to the grocery store occasionally, the KN95 is probably enough.
After doing the research, I decided that the KN95 mask from Powecom, a Chinese brand, is the best for my purposes. The mask has a filtration efficiency of 99% in the CDC tests.
From there, I visited Amazon, where I bought everything from dog food to batteries during the pandemic. That’s when things go badly.
Be careful with Amazon
When I entered “Powecom KN95” in the Amazon search box, the masks immediately appeared with a rating of 4.5 stars. I quickly clicked “Add to cart”.
But before I check out, I scroll down to read reviews. There are around 130 – including some one-star reviews from unsatisfied buyers who say the mask is most likely fake. I have emptied my cart.
How did I almost buy counterfeit goods? Saoud Khalifah, founder of Fakespot, a company that provides tools for fake list detection and online reviews, said third-party sellers may have controlled product listings and sold fake goods to make ends meet. money fast.
“It’s a little Wild West,” he said. “Ordinary consumers who shop on Amazon don’t know they’ve just bought a fake mask. Here’s the most important issue: You think it’s real, and suddenly you get sick. “
Mr. Khalifah presented other examples of suspicious masks being sold on Amazon:
This week, a pack of 50 masks was marked on Amazon as the # 1 new product for women’s fashion scarves. Obviously, the mask is not a scarf, it’s a gift for which something has been discounted. The list description also replaces all A’s with accented characters. Khalifah said this is a technique used to bypass Amazon’s fraud detection system. Amazon deleted the list after I called about it.
Another pack of 20 attractive-looking masks is described by the CDC as approved. It even has positive reviews with an average of 4.4 stars. But reviews reveal that most customers have received the mask for free, which can be a motivator to leave positive feedback. A warm review from someone who has paid for the product noted that the mask is “thin and very, very large.”
Mr. Khalifah’s software also found that reviewers of the other 100 mask packs, with a unanimous five-star rating, have a history of writing ad reviews for other brands.
Amazon said in a statement that it banned the sale of counterfeit products and made investments to ensure its policies are being followed. It says it has specific policies for N95 and KN95 respirators, including inventory checking procedures and taking action against counterfeit sellers.
Amazon also said it addressed the suspicious Powecom mask I almost bought, as well as the one advertised as a scarf. It adds that there is no evidence that the pack of 20 masks is tampered with and does not comment on the pack of 100 masks.
Khalifah warned that counterfeit goods he found on Amazon could easily appear on the websites of other major retailers, such as Walmart and eBay, allowing third-party sellers to ship the product. To buy authentic masks, he said, I should adopt a less traditional approach than shopping online.
Order from an authorized source
Armed with this advice, I continued to search for the Powecom mask.
I went to the manufacturer’s website, which lists the steps to verify that the mask is real. That involves scanning a barcode on a package with a phone camera. I then did a web search for the mask, which took me to bonafidemasks.com, an online retailer displaying documentation stating that it was an authorized distributor of the Powecom mask in the United States. States.
That was more reassuring. So I ordered a 100 pack for $ 99. When the package arrived in the mail, I scanned the barcode to confirm their authenticity. They have the real deal.
Another route I can take is to order the mask directly from the manufacturer. Verified mask makers like DemeTech, in Miami and Prestige Ameritech, in Texas, sell the N95 through their websites.
But ordering directly from one manufacturer presents other challenges. Often times you have to buy in bulk to reduce costs.
So what if you just want to buy a few to try it out? Ms. Miller’s nonprofit project N95 buys mask orders in bulk and breaks them down so people can buy smaller batches. “It was a very hard process to go through,” she said.