Coronavirus: Customs on high alert for fake, faulty PPE

As demand for personal protective equipment (PPE) soars, border officials are on high alert for counterfeit and defective gear being imported into New Zealand.

Several countries have rejected dodgy PPE that could have made it to the COVID-19 frontlines.

Face masks and gloves have become a common sight across the country as people gear up against the pandemic.

Now Customs is warning the sudden surge in demand has scammers circling.

"A dust mask imported for general use is a perfectly legitimate importation - it's when it's onsold as an N95 mask or something along those lines," says Customs investigations manager Bruce Berry.

While Customs is yet to seize any large shipments of dodgy or misleading PPE it says the risk is higher than ever.

Australian officials have intercepted more than 800,000 faulty face masks from China in recent weeks.

And several European countries have rejected Chinese-made gear that doesn't meet health standards.

"It's the opportunists and then the deliberate organised crime angles [that] are the ones that are difficult to deal with and we're putting in a lot of effort targeting that type of work," Berry says.

The Ministry of Health has clear guidelines about medical protection.

Equipment like face masks must be fit for purpose, made of acceptable materials and designed using international standards.

But it's up to the suppliers to do those checks before products go to market, so consumers need to be extra-vigilant about where and who they're buying from.

"It is an opportunity for scammers to come out of the woodwork, for traders to make a quick buck making misleading claims or flogging goods with a really high price on them," says Jessica Wilson, head of research at Consumer NZ.

Medsafe is in discussions with TradeMe over the legal requirements needed for people selling face masks.

But Consumer NZ says many other websites have been set up quickly and are targeting Kiwis.

"Telltale signs the trader may not be legit is that contact information is pretty limited, no physical address, no phone number for the trader," Wilson says.

"Information about where the product is manufactured is also pretty light."

Advice that could help protect you from people trying to profit from a public health crisis.