The Emails Promising Coronavirus-Protecting Masks Seemed Too Good To Be True. They Were.

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April 21, 2020

Ray Shell visited a grocery store in North Carolina in early April and noticed nearly every customer was wearing a mask. He decided it was time to get one.

Shell, an acclaimed stage actor who played Rusty the steam engine in the original production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express, knew masks were in short supply because of the coronavirus pandemic. But he’d recently received an email from an unfamiliar address advertising one called SafeMask. Shell was cautious — it was spam, after all — but his anxiety won out.

“The picture of [the mask] looked as if it was nice and sturdy and I could use it more than once,” he told BuzzFeed News. “So that's why I went for it.”

Shell paid the exorbitant price of $39.99 for two SafeMasks (comparable respirators normally sell for $0.75 online) and felt better — until days went by and they never arrived. He thought he’d been scammed. He called a number for customer support listed on his invoice, and the person who answered told a different story.

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