In mid-March, as the first shelter-in-place orders were issued across the U.S. and desperate public health officials scrounged for medical grade face masks, an online store by the name of FaceMaskCenter.com offered hope. Despite the global shortage, it claimed to have hundreds of thousands of FDA-approved N95 masks, and would be delighted to sell them to businesses in need.
Unfortunately, as the Department of Justice alleged on Thursday, FaceMaskCenter.com was in fact a scam. Not only were the masks it listed for sale not FDA approved, but according to the DOJ the entire operation was run by a known “ISIS facilitator” by the name of Murat Cakar. That’s right, ISIS got in on the face mask grift.
Using a collection of four Facebook pages — several of which are still live at the time of writing — to “facilitate the scheme,” the DOJ claims that Cakar tried to sell a hundred thousand subpar masks to an American customer. According to the DOJ, the unnamed customer wanted the masks for nursing homes, hospitals, and fire departments.
In addition to using Facebook to take advantage of a pandemic, the DOJ alleges that Cakar ran several ISIS hacking operations.
Before FaceMaskCenter.com was pulled down by U.S. authorities, it billed itself as a long-running business that had proudly provided personal protective equipment (PPE) since 1996.
“Owned and operated by sanitary experts, we pride ourselves on our product knowledge and quality customer service, so you can have safe and seamless online shopping experience,” reads a quote from the site, reprinted in the unsealed complaint. “We now are serving online with our range of face masks, gloves, goggles, protective suits and thermometers.”
This was, as the DOJ notes, not correct.
“The claim that the website launched in 1996 is demonstrably false,” reads the complaint. “Publicly-available website registration records revealed that the website was created from an IP address in Turkey on February 26, 2020.”
We’ve reached out to Facebook to see if they’ll take the pages down. Scammers using the site to push their wares in not a new phenomenon, of course. There is something particularly galling, however, about ISIS allegedly using the social media giant in an attempt to funnel substandard PPE to U.S. hospitals.
But hey, that’s just the cost of connecting people.