WSHA and UW Medicine scammed out of $4 million for fake N95s

by John R. Fischer, Senior Reporter | February 10, 2022
Business Affairs

The whole City of Houston fell victim to a scam that cost it roughly $1.7 million. The masks were discovered to be fake before they could be used, but the funds to pay for them were seized by federal authorities after it investigated the company and were not returned to the city.

In the early days of the pandemic, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) had conducted over 500 seizures and made 11 arrests by May 2020 of individuals and companies that tried to sell faulty materials and resources to hospitals for protection against the virus. These actions not only pertained to faulty masks but also PPE, mislabeled medicines and fake COVID-19 tests and cures.

“These are really bad times for people who are out there trying to do the right thing and be helpful, and they end up being exploited,” Steve Francis, assistant director for global trade investigations at HSI, told AP at the time.

Even fake COVID testing sites have been a problem. One company in Washington state is being investigated for allegedly faking test results and lying to patients, reports the Seattle Times.

Based in Illinois, the Center for COVID Control has at least 13 sites in Washington and is alleged to have faked and delayed test results and failed to properly store test samples. In a separate suit, the state says that the Center for COVID Control stored tests in garbage bags for more than a week, rather than refrigerating them; backdated sample-collection dates to ensure stale samples would still be processed; and instructed employees to “lie to patients on a daily basis” when Washington residents asked about delayed results.

The testing centers “threatened the health and safety of our communities,” state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement this week. “They must be held accountable.”

The federal government and FDA are also trying to weed out fake PPE and mask sellers, including revoking authorization for Chinese-made KN95s and working with customs officials to stop banned imports. Many also use Amazon to facilitate their scams.

The CDC has listed guidelines and pointers for differentiating real from fake masks. Among these differences are no markings at all on the filtering facepiece respirator; no approval (TC) number on filtering facepiece respirator or headband; no NIOSH markings or NIOSH spelled incorrectly; and the filtering facepiece respirator has ear loops instead of headbands.

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