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How to spot fake vs. legit N95 and KN95 masks

The CDC warns 60% of KN95 masks on the market are fakes.

INDIANAPOLIS — The Biden administration said it's distributing 400 million N95 masks for people to pick up nationwide for free sometime late next week. They'll be available at pharmacies and community health centers.

To stay protected in the meantime, how do you know the masks you're buying online are legit?

When it comes to N95, KN95 or KF94 masks, a lot of us just don't know what to look for.

"No, actually don't. It's confusing, yeah it is," said shopper Brooke Voelker.

"I'm actually a dental hygienist, so I know all about them and they are really hard to find good ones," added shopper Autumn Wagner.

In fact, the CDC warns 60% of KN95 masks on the market are fakes that are not up to quality standards.

"It's pretty scary, isn't it? There are so many companies advertising these KN95s on Amazon and they're totally not all up to par," Wagner said.

It's why Project N95 is helping cut through the confusion.

The nonprofit sells masks that meet safety standards and offers advice to consumers on navigating their own mask purchases.

They caution us to remember – N95 and KN95 are not the same thing.

Credit: Maridav - stock.adobe.com
Corona virus prevetion face mask protection N95 masks and medical surgical masks at home .

RELATED: Here's how to get free N95 masks from the government, starting next week

N95 masks have multiple layers of protection and they're approved and certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

"That's on the mask itself," explained Kelly Carothers, director of government affairs for Project N95. "So it'll always have the manufacturer name, NIOSH written on it, the model and a TC number which is the number given to the manufacturer from NIOSH."

Another tell that it's a real N95?

The mask has a head strap, not ear loops.

"Look for those head straps. If you see a mask that doesn't have head straps that says N95 on it? Don't buy it. Red flag," Carothers said.

KN95s are manufactured in China, adhere to Chinese standards and are not NIOSH certified or regulated at all in the U.S.

Credit: WTHR

RELATED: Yes, you can reuse KN95 and N95 masks several times. Here’s how to do it properly

Carothers said there are a few brands with good protection, with standards recently implemented in China.

But she said KN95s are the ones most often counterfeited online.

"I could take a mask like this one, put toilet paper in it, sell it on Amazon, write KN95 on the side and say I sell certified to the Chinese standard. But there is one trick to check to make sure a KN95 is a real one. If you take one of those masks out I can tell you if it's real or not," Carothers said, pointing out the KN95 mask 13News showed her. "You have to look on the side of the mask. It should say GB2626-2019 or GB2626-2006. Do you see that on any side of the mask?"

We did not, which means it's likely a fake, one of the 60% the CDC warns about.

One more thing to look for, experts say if a product online has typos, bad grammar or specifically claims to be "legitimate" in the listing – it's probably fake.

Project N95 has a lot of great resources for you to navigate legit masks.

They also sell products that meet safety standards and encourage people to call with any questions, whether they buy from the site or not. To learn more, click here.