The Coronavirus pandemic has given rise to a cottage industry of scam artists looking to prey on people’s fears. Fake websites selling coronavirus masks are scamming organizations out of millions.
An investigation by Escrow.com has found a surge of unscrupulous websites aimed at selling N95 respirator masks in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Fake websites with no history are being put online, seemingly selling bulk quantities of Coronavirus masks. Without any legitimate business history or record to speak of, they are offering low prices on orders for millions of masks.
One company, operating under the domain name www.3mspain.org, offered to sell 1 million 3M N95 face masks. In emails obtained by Escrow.com, the company’s representative, calling himself Dr. Heredia Jose, quoted a price of €750,000 (USD$827,262) for 1 million 3M N95 face masks, and even provided video of the boxes of masks.
When asked to provide company registration numbers, telephone numbers and office addresses, the company’s representative provided legitimate information pertaining to 3M’s headquarters in Madrid, but the company’s site has never been affiliated with 3M, which runs its Spanish site under the domain www.3m.com.es.
The company, representing itself as 3M Health Care Infection Prevention Division, only registered its domain on 14 February 2020. A search on the Internet Archive found no pages for the site. And in the emails provided to Escrow.com, a representative for the company declined requests to inspect the products in person, saying the products could only be viewed after purchase. The representative also initially claimed to be a 3M manufacturer, but later claimed to be an official reseller.
In videos obtained by Escrow.com, the company shows the product to the potential customer, but doesn’t provide a clear view of the face masks to verify that they’re official NIOSH-approved N95 masks.
The 3mspain.org site has since been taken down.
Another site, which i s still i n operation, claims to be one of the world’s leading manufacturers of NIOSH approved N95 face masks. But Escrow.com’s investigation revealed the company’s domain was only registered on 13 February 2020.
Moreover, a look into the business activities of the Swedish company listed on the site found them listed as performing installation and maintenance services for machinery and industrial equipment. And in spite of claiming to be a world-leading supplier of face masks, the company did around USD$160,000 in revenue last year according to the Swedish Companies office (Bolagsverket).
Perhaps most damning, none of the company’s various trading names are listed under the Center for Disease Control’s registry of NIOSH-approved mask manufacturers.
The company became aware of these sites as transaction volume for personal protective equipment on Escrow.com surged in February and March.
“Transaction setup volume for masks and medical protective equipment has increased over 5000% since January,” Escrow.com General Manager Jackson Elsegood said. “Many of these transactions will be with reputable dealers, however there are also those that seek to take advantage of unwary buyers. “Without proper precautions, the goods you receive may not match what you paid for. Or, worse yet, you might not receive the goods at all.”
Escrow.com offers a safe way for buyers and sellers of supply chain transactions to deal with new suppliers by holding funds until the buyer receives the goods that they paid for. Additionally, Escrow.com supports multiple brokers in a transaction receiving commissions for arranging transactions. As a licensed and regulated online escrow service, Escrow.com’s platform is available 24×7 to keep buyers and sellers protected while giving them flexibility needed to keep their supply chain moving.