New DHS Secretary Ali Mayorkas announced the bust, done in coordination with 3M, the U.S. maker of N95 masks, at a Wednesday news conference, and urged caution.
“We just implore the public to be aware of websites or individuals, selling products claiming to prevent treat diagnose or cure COVID-19, where a pharmaceutical product information with grammatical errors or misspellings some indicative that they do not come from a legitimate business source,” Mayorkas said.
Agents from the department's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit seized 1 million masks at a warehouse in western Maryland on Wednesday.
Other seizures occurred in 12 states over the last few weeks, officials said.
HSI Global Trade Investigations Division Director Steve Francis said the majority of the counterfeit masks come from China and said that if they were to be used by health care workers it could be very dangerous.
“Not only do they give a false sense of security but how dangerous is the unexposed forgiving, how dangerous is the exposed individual?” Mayorkas said.
HSI notified about 6,000 suspected victims of the fraud, including hospitals, medical facilities and others who may have purchased medical masks from the illicit dealers, urging them to immediately stop using the masks and to contact HSI immediately, a news release said.
Mayorkas also said that Americans are in a "vulnerable" time with COVID-19, and agents won't be resting to prevent criminals from trying to exploit that.
"Criminals exploit our vulnerability for a quick buck is something that we will continue to aggressively pursue."