Close up of face masks on the production line of the Detmold PPE production facility in Brompton, Adelaide, Monday, June 22, 2020. The new Adelaide plant is making medical-grade face masks and has already produced more than one million. (AAP Image/David Mariuz) NO ARCHIVING

Story about thieves using chemical-laced knockout masks has been told and debunked around the world

AAP FactCheck July 27, 2020

The Statement

A social media post claims thieves are taking advantage of mandatory face mask rules by offering unsuspecting people facemasks doused in chemicals which leave them unconscious.

The Facebook post claims to be from a police bulletin warning others of people “going door to door handing out masks” as part of “a new initiative from local government”.

The post states the doorknockers will “ask you to please put it on to see if it fits you. It has been doused with chemicals which knocks you out cold and once you’re knocked out they proceed to rob you”.

It ends by urging people to be vigilant, telling readers to “not accept masks from strangers”.

“Remember, we are living in critical times and people are desperate to take advantage with the aim of making money. Crime rate has skyrocketed, so please be cautious and play safe!”

The post has been shared more than 10,000 times and has been viewed more than 600,000 times since it was posted on June 25, 2020.

It has also been shared by other users on Facebook here, here and here.

Screenshot of Facebook post
┬áA post claims – falsely – that thieves are using chemical-laced facemasks to knock out victims.┬á

The Analysis

Facemasks have been made mandatory in some Victorian and NSW settings but police in those states have not received any reports of criminals attempting to rob people using facemasks drenched in incapacitating chemicals.

People living in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire were required to wear facemasks when leaving home as of July 23, in a bid to slow the spread of a second wave of COVID-19.

On July 24, 2020, NSW Health implemented a rule which sees all health workers and patients in health settings wearing surgical masks in response to the level of community transmission in the state.

An online search brings up no evidence of any events where criminals used chemical-laced facemasks to knock people unconscious before robbing them.

A Victoria Police spokesperson told AAP FactCheck in an email they are “not aware of any activities involving the distribution of unsafe or dangerous masks in the community”.

Similarly, a NSW Police spokesperson told AAP FactCheck they are “unaware of this happening in NSW”.

According to fact-checkers Snopes, the hoax post first started circulating online in late March and early April 2020, in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The post also appeared in Singapore, resulting in the Singapore Police Force releasing a statement addressing the false message on April 4, and again on May 26.

The posts have also appeared and been debunked in other countries, including in the US by Politifact, in the UK by Reuters, in South Africa by AFP and in India by India Today.

 A scary claim that criminals are handing out masks to knock people out has been debunked worldwide. 

The Verdict

Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck found the Facebook post to be false. Police in Victoria and NSW have not received any reports of criminals offering people facemasks doused with chemicals. The hoax post and simliar versions of the claim has circulated online and been debunked around the world since late March and early April.

False ÔÇô The primary claims of the content are factually inaccurate.

* AAP FactCheck is accredited by the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, which promotes best practice through a stringent and transparent Code of Principles.

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