(StarTribune) — 3M has investigated 4,000 reports globally of fraud, counterfeiting and price gouging in connection with its N95 respirators. As a result, it has filed 18 lawsuits in North America, including two in Minnesota.

The Maplewood-based company Thursday issued an update of its battle against scams as COVID-19 has greatly increased demand for N95 masks, the gold standard in protection against pathogens and other particulate matter.

3M is the leading U.S. manufacturer of N95 respirators and among the largest globally.

3M said that so far, courts have issued six temporary restraining orders — including one this week in Minnesota — and four preliminary injunctions to stop N95 sales operations alleged to be unlawful. The company said it has provided referrals to law enforcement agencies that have helped lead to criminal charges in some cases.

“The schemes we shut down were not only unlawful, they also endangered lives and wasted precious time and resources by diverting buyers from legitimate sources of much-needed respirators,” said Denise Rutherford, 3M senior vice president of corporate affairs.

In addition to litigation, 3M said it has removed more than 7,000 e-commerce listings with fraudulent or counterfeit product offerings and more than 10,000 false or deceptive social media posts.

The pace of alleged N95 scams hasn’t slowed. “I attribute much of that constant pace to the fact that supply does not meet demand, and that gives fraudsters an opportunity,” Haley Schaffer, 3M assistant general counsel, said in an interview.

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