How to Buy a Real N95 Mask Online

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A 12 months into the coronavirus pandemic, shopping for a heavy-duty medical masks on-line stays downright maddening.

The most coveted masks to preserve protected towards Covid-19 has been the N95, the gold normal for pandemic safety due to its tight match and 95 p.c effectivity in filtering airborne particles. Then there’s the KN95 from China, a masks for medical staff, which additionally provides excessive filtration and is considerably looser becoming.

But these masks have been removed from straightforward to purchase on the web. When the pandemic hit final 12 months, they instantly turned scarce as well being care staff and governments rushed to receive them. The demand was so intense that a grey market sprang up for them.

But before checking out, I scrolled down to read the reviews. There were about 130 — including a handful of one-star reviews from aggrieved buyers who said the masks were most likely fake. I emptied my shopping cart.

How had I almost bought a counterfeit? Saoud Khalifah, the founder of Fakespot, a company that offers tools to detect fake listings and reviews online, said a third-party seller had probably taken control of the product listing and sold fakes to make a quick buck.

“It’s a bit of a Wild West,” he said. “The normal consumers that shop on Amazon do not know that they just bought a fake mask. This is the biggest critical problem: You think it’s real, and suddenly you get sick.”

Mr. Khalifah presented other examples of questionable masks that were being sold on Amazon:

  • A pack of 50 masks was highlighted on Amazon this week as the No. 1 new release in women’s fashion scarves. Obviously, masks are not scarves, which was a giveaway that something was off. The listing description also replaced all of the letter A’s with accented characters. This was a technique used to bypass Amazon’s fraud detection systems, Mr. Khalifah said. Amazon removed the listing after I called about it.

Amazon said in a statement that it prohibits the sale of counterfeit products and invests to ensure its policy is followed. It said it had specific policies for N95 and KN95 masks, including a process for vetting inventory and taking action on those who sold fakes.

Amazon also said it had addressed the questionable Powecom mask that I nearly purchased, as well as the mask advertised as a scarf. It added that there was no evidence that the pack of 20 masks was counterfeited and did not comment on the pack of 100 masks.

Mr. Khalifah cautioned that the fakes he spotted on Amazon could just as easily be on websites for other big retailers, such as Walmart and eBay, that allow third-party sellers to ship products. To buy authentic masks, he said, I should take a less traditional approach to shopping online.

Armed with this advice, I continued my search for the Powecom mask.

I visited the manufacturer’s website, which listed steps for verifying that a mask is real. That involved scanning a bar code on the package with a phone camera. Then I did a web search for the mask, which brought me to, an online retailer that shows documentation stating that it is an authorized distributor of Powecom masks in the United States.

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