AG Nessel investigating Grand Rapids-based importer of mislabeled face masks

Posted at 6:27 PM, Apr 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-20 18:42:59-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office announced Monday afternoon that they are issuing court-authorized subpoenas in its investigation of Grand Rapids-based Kooz Concepts International Inc., which may be selling counterfeit or misleadingly-labeled personal protective equipment (PPE) to consumers, including multiple nursing homes.

The Attorney General’s office is investigating the company and its role relative to a price-gouging complaint the office received from a consumer about practices by another West Michigan business, Penny Pinchers, a small grocer located in Battle Creek.

Kent County Circuit Court Judge Mark A. Trusock granted the Attorney General’s petition for the subpoenas on Friday.

Kooz Concepts could in violation of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act for causing confusion among customers about its goods, specifically face masks, which have become highly sought products during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of those customers, Penny Pinchers, posted on social media that it was selling N-95 face masks for $3 apiece.

The masks sold were basic surgical masks and not N-95s. Kraig Koeze, the owner of Kooz Concepts, told investigators that he sold masks to other businesses in addition to Penny Pinchers, including nursing homes and a fast-food restaurant.

He declined to provide additional details on those purchasers; however, the Attorney General served Kooz Concepts with a subpoena Friday afternoon requiring identification of those businesses on Saturday.

Certain masks advertised as N-95s may be imported counterfeits and not actually carry that official designation or offer the same level of protection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers guidance on how to distinguish between legitimate respirators and counterfeits.

“As my office becomes more aware of counterfeit masks being marketed and sold as products that offer more protection than they actually do, there is a growing demand for consumers to take their own precautions to make sure the equipment they are buying is not a knock-off,” Nessel said. “As Michigan works through our COVID-19 situation, scammers and con-artists will attempt to dupe unsuspecting victims into buying lower-grade, poorer-quality products under the false promise of security and protection from this virus. They are putting lives at risk, and they will answer for such lawlessness.”

Koeze also told investigators that his business typically imports products from China that are sold at trade shows, and that a family member who works in health care asked him to use his connections due to a desperate need for PPE.

Consumers can file a complaint online regarding price gouging or by calling the Consumer Protection tip line, 877-765-8388. Hours of operation are between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.