A team of attorneys led by 3M’s Eva Mendelsohn and Greene Espel partner Sybil Dunlop stayed busy during the past two years filing temporary restraining orders against companies selling N95 imitations to unsuspecting buyers. The attorneys worked closely with the U.S. Marshal’s Office, which seized millions of fake masks from warehouses in Kentucky, Louisiana, California and other states.
Dunlop says the process requires attorneys to quickly file a brief after learning of a company selling fraudulent N95s. Then, they engage local counsel in the jurisdiction with the fraudulent N95 seller and convince a judge to issue a seizure order before the companies learn they are under investigation.
Dunlop says her “heart was in my throat” every time the U.S. marshals visited the warehouse, but they found masks in every case. “Someone in our firm will be working with the team of marshals virtually, and they’re sending us pictures of the masks that they’re unpacking,” she says. “It’s sort of like a virtual reality — you’re there, but you’re not there.”
3M used a fraud hotline, tips from people questioning the legitimacy of masks being sold in high volumes at low costs and private investigators to tease out the companies selling fake merchandise. Occasionally Dunlop would caution patience until the team could gather more evidence.
The company seeks damages for any profits made off fake masks and donates the proceeds to COVID-19 related charities. Cease and desist letters also went out to more than 30 individuals selling bogus masks.
Counterfeit masks continue to be sold because of the pandemic and the need. “I think the reason is that demand has not led up,” Dunlop says. “I think that’s why it continues to be a problem.”
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