A post making the rounds on social media and text message chains claims that people pretending to work for local governments are fitting people for free masks doused with chemicals and robbing them once they are unconscious. The claim was first shared almost two years ago but is recirculating as the Biden administration plans to give away 400 million free N95 masks to U.S. residents.
There are several versions of the post, but most are identified as a “police bulletin” with the following message:
“People are going door to door handing out masks, they say it’s a new initiative from local government. They will always ask you to please put it on to see if it fits you. It has been doused with chemicals which knock you out cold and once you’re knocked out they proceed to rob you. Please do not accept masks from strangers. Remember, we are living in critical times and people are desperate to take advantage with the aim of making money. Crime rate has skyrocketed, so please be cautious and play safe!”
Some of the posts claim they are from a specific police department, such as the New York Police Department here or the Los Angeles Police Department here, while others are vague and do not specify a location.
Viewer Irma emailed VERIFY to ask if people are handing out masks doused with chemicals, as “police bulletins” shared on social media claim.
Are people handing out masks doused with chemicals as a “police bulletin” circulating on social media claims?
Archive search of Facebook posts
No, people are not handing out masks doused with chemicals as a bogus “police bulletin” circulating on social media claims.
WHAT WE FOUND
In a Facebook post, the Pine Bluff Police Department in Arkansas wrote that it is aware of the message circulating via social media and text messaging. The police department clarified that the message is not from the agency and it is “unaware of any incidents resembling this message occurring in Pine Bluff.”
The department goes on to say that it doesn’t recommend taking a mask that is not in its original packaging from anyone because the mask could have viruses or bacteria on it.
Lt. Michelle Greenlee with Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office in Michigan also wrote on Facebook that she was recently given a copy of a Nextdoor posting with the same false message about mask distribution. Nextdoor is a social networking service for neighborhoods.
“KCSO has investigated this posting and has contacted police agencies around the nation. Not one case has been verified and no one has been able to find the source of the original posting,” Greenlee wrote in the Facebook post. “Right now, law enforcement believes this is to be untrue and that an unknown source is intentionally scaring the public.”
Greenelee added that people should not continue sharing the post unless it comes from a law enforcement agency.
It’s also important to note that officials with the federal government will not deliver masks to people’s homes. The free N95 masks will be available for the public to pick up at local pharmacies and health centers, the White House said in a tweet.
SOURCE OF MISINFORMATION
This bogus post about mask distribution has been circulating on social media worldwide since 2020. The Singapore Police Force said in April 2020 that text and audio messages circulating on social media were false, and police had not received any reports about such incidents. Police also clarified that there were no government initiatives to distribute masks directly to households.
A search of Facebook posts also shows at least one TikTok video posted in April 2020 with people acting out the fake scenario without any evidence that it is legitimate.