Face masks

Protective masks, normally used for surgery, are now in use to fight the Corona Virus SARS-nCov-19.

As businesses and cities continue to discuss making face masks mandatory, fake cards are showing up online that claim to exempt people from covering their faces. The cards are yet another unfortunate reminder that you should not believe everything you see right now, no matter how legitimate it looks.

The Better Business Bureau is joining the U.S. Department of Justice in alerting both businesses and consumers about the growing number of fraudulent face mask exemption cards making their way into marketplaces. Additionally, the Justice Department has been made aware of social media postings and flyers circulating online that use false information to promote the fake cards.

The information references the Americans with Disabilities Act and emphasizes peoples’ right to refuse when instructed to wear a face mask for curbing the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, this is misinformation that uses faked endorsements from the Justice Department.

The group behind the fake exemption card calls itself the Freedom to Breathe Agency. Its card incorporates an eagle-themed logo and states that holders are protected from any mandates requiring citizens to wear face masks. Exact text featured on the card — misspellings included — reads, “Wearing a face mask posses a mental and/or physical risk to me. Under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), I am not required to disclose my condition to you.”

Health experts and the Justice Department are urging the public not to believe the card’s claim that wearing a mask will incur mental or physical risk. The information on the card also alleges the Americans with Disabilities Act forbids asking about the cardholder’s health condition and threatens to levy fines of at least $75,000 if any questions are asked. These fines are not real.

The Department of Justice states it is not the distributors of these cards and does not endorse the information shared by the Freedom to Breathe Agency. Lenka Koloma, the group’s founder, advertised the cards on her Facebook page and sold them on a Shopify site, which is no longer available.

The BBB suggests that when coming across information on the internet, a good rule of thumb is if misspellings are present and logos look a little different, be suspicious. Before taking any action, verify that everything being shared is legitimate. Go to the actual website of the government agency or company promoting the information to see what’s real and what shouldn’t be believed.

For more information on this topic and many more, you can visit bbb.org.

This is an evolving story. BBB has received reports that the Freedom to Breathe Agency has updated these cards without the Justice Department logo. For up-to-date information on scam alerts, please visit BBB.org/covid19. You can also visit the Department of Justice’s website at justice.gov.

Sheron Patrick is communications manager for the Better Business Bureau of Northwest and Pacific serving Alaska. He lives in Anchorage.