Many were clever fakes.
They were stamped with the 3M logo and shipped in boxes that read, “Made in the U.S.A.”
But these supposed N95 masks were not produced by 3M and weren’t made in the United States, federal investigators said on Wednesday.
They were counterfeits, and millions were bought by hospitals, medical institutions and government agencies in at least five states, the federal authorities said as they announced an investigation.
Homeland Security Investigations, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, said the masks were dangerous because they might not offer the same level of protection against the coronavirus as genuine N95s.
“We don’t know if they meet the standards,” said Brian Weinhaus, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations.
Cassie Sauer, the president and chief executive of the Washington State Hospital Association, said that about two million counterfeit masks might have made it into the state. They were “really good fakes,” she said.
“They look, they feel, they fit and they breathe like a 3M mask,” Ms. Sauer said.
News of the investigation came the same day the Homeland Security Department’s intelligence branch warned law enforcement agencies that criminals have been selling counterfeit coronavirus vaccines online for “hundreds of dollars per dose.”