U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the department best-known for detaining and deporting immigrants, is teaming up with Pfizer, Amazon, and 3M to fight fake COVID-19 products entering the country, The Wall Street Journal reports. The companies will share information and best practices to stop counterfeit masks, COVID-19 tests, and other medical equipment from being shipped to the U.S.
As COVID-19 continues to spread across the U.S., supplies we once took for granted are now in increasingly short supply. Counterfeiters are using that to their advantage, selling ineffective fakes to unsuspecting customers. Just about every internet platform from Amazon to YouTube has struggled to keep up with fake listings.
Creating a task force dedicated to taking down these counterfeiters at the source is a great idea, and it’s one the U.S. could have used months ago. Moreover, tracking down and blocking the distribution of counterfeit medical supplies is a much better goal for ICE than separating families.
Face masks are the top concern — One of the top protections we’re being urged to take when leaving the house is wearing a face covering. But the U.S. market wasn’t prepared for the sudden increase in mask orders, which has led to lots of subpar offerings finding their way to market.
Steve Francis, director of ICE’s National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, said fake N95 masks are the biggest problem here. “It poses a serious health concern to the American public when they are wearing face masks that they think have the protection of N95 masks but are really substandard,” he said in an interview.
There’s already been some progress — ICE says more than 19,000 suspect coronavirus-related domain names have already been identified with help from the companies in the partnership. More than 500 shipments of unauthorized COVID-19 products have been seized as well, including fake tests and cures.
In a similar vein, Homeland Security Investigations has opened 315 investigations and made 11 arrests of people selling counterfeit goods. 3M, which manufactures N95 masks, has filed around 10 federal lawsuits against companies price-gouging or selling fake products.
The problem’s going nowhere — Though many fake medical suppliers have already been busted, there’s still lots of work to be done. Francis said the agency expects the problem to get worse in the coming months if it’s not checked. “We’re going to see a flood of counterfeits hitting the marketplace,” he said.
It’s not clear what each company involved with the partnership will contribute. We can only hope their combined efforts are enough to save lives.