U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and companies including 3M Co., Amazon.com Inc. and Pfizer Inc. said they are working together to curtail the flood of counterfeit masks, coronavirus tests and other equipment entering the country.
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The agency's center for intellectual-property protection said Tuesday that it was working with those and other companies to identify suspicious shipments and takedown suspect online listings for masks and other gear. ICE said the companies have agreed to share information and best practices with ICE to combat such bad behavior.
"This information-sharing effort allows the government to then make more informed decisions about targeting suspicious international shipments," Lev Kubiak, Pfizer's chief security officer said in a statement.
As the new coronavirus has spread across the U.S., government officials, health-care executives and private citizens have ramped up purchases of masks and other medical gear. The demand far outstrips domestic capacity to make many of those goods, even as 3M and other companies have ramped up production.
That has led to a surge in imports of goods including masks and protective gear -- some of it counterfeit or subpar -- from unproven vendors. U.S. regulators and state officials have found a significant number of imported masks are falling short of certification standards.
"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," Steve Francis, director of ICE's National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, said in an interview. ICE is a division of the Department of Homeland Security. N95 masks are named for the 95% of very small particles they are certified to block, including droplets containing the virus.
The agency said it had identified more than 19,000 suspect Covid-19-related domain names with the help of the companies in the partnership and is working to take many of them down. U.S. Customs has seized nearly 500 shipments of unauthorized products, including protective equipment and products that purport to test for the disease or treat it, ICE said. And Homeland Security agents have opened 315 investigations and made 11 arrests of people allegedly selling or shipping improper goods.
Mr. Francis said companies from different sectors and parts of the supply chain are lending their expertise to the effort, including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., Citigroup Inc. and Merck & Co., in addition to 3M, Amazon and Pfizer.
Some companies are also taking separate action against counterfeit protective gear. 3M has filed around 10 federal lawsuits in recent weeks against entities they say are price gouging or selling fake products.
"We are going to see a flood of counterfeits hitting the U.S. marketplace," Mr. Francis said.