University Students Sued by 3M for Allegedly Selling N95 Masks for More than Five Times Retail Price Amid Coronavirus Crisis

Two students in Canada are being sued by U.S. respirator manufacturer 3M for allegedly selling its face masks at "exorbitant prices" during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Minnesota-based healthcare giant, which produces FDA-approved "N95" masks for medical workers and first responders, confirmed on Tuesday that it had filed legal action in the Superior Court in Ontario, identifying two defendants in the case as Zhiyu Pu and Harmen Mander.

According to the filing, the defendants sold the critical medical items via a business named Caonic Systems Inc., and repeatedly claimed to be affiliated with the 3M brand.

They allegedly sold the N95 respirators for $17 each, which the manufacturer said is more than five times the typical retail price, and claimed they were sourced from certified suppliers.

The duo is accused of registering a store on the retail platform Shopify, 3M-Health, and starting to sell the items in March.

Shopify shut down their initial site on March 31, but the defendants allegedly then reopened under another name, Tormen Health, and continued to run the operation.

3M alleges the defendants briefly relaunched on another platform after Shopify shut down the second store. They allegedly continued to claim an affiliation with 3M on social media.

"We are dedicated to putting a stop to those who are trying to cash in on this crisis and have taken legal action when we've identified illegal behavior in New York, California, Florida, Texas, and now Canada," said Denise Rutherford, 3M's senior vice president of corporate affairs.

The legal filing requests the court to compel the two defendants to reveal the location of any remaining respirators and hand over information about sales and customers. The company said it will pursue damages and, if successful, the money will be donated to COVID-19 nonprofit organizations.

"If the N95s are authentic, 3M will support returning them for use in efforts to fight COVID-19. If they are not authentic, 3M will inform Caonic's customers," it said in a media statement.

Mander, one of the named defendants, told CTV News the operation had sold fewer than 50 packs of the masks and claimed the proceeds were intended to be used to launch a non-profit.

Mander told the publication via an email this week: "We are university students, when the virus started in January, we noticed that a lot of schools were still operating as usual. Classrooms were packed. Many students, including ourselves, were concerned about our own personal safety. Our goal has always been to help small businesses, our communities, and friends and family around us."

Shopify said it had removed over 5,000 stores for policy violations linked to COVID-19.

Earlier this month, 3M filed legal action in a federal court in Florida against a defendant who it said tried to sell "tens of millions of likely nonexistent 3M N95 respirators at grossly inflated prices to the federal Division of Strategic National Stockpile... while falsely affiliating itself with 3M."

It named the entity as Geftico LLC. The case was first flagged by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who informed 3M that the business had made offers in March and April. "Such a quantity of 3M respirators did not exist as represented by the defendant," 3M asserted.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.
N95 mask
Close-up of N95 respirator mask during an outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus, San Francisco, California, March 30, 2020. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty