The seller charged customers over $350,000 in total, 3M and Amazon said

The Wall Street Journal

3M Co. MMM -7.03% filed a lawsuit against a merchant selling masks on Amazon. AMZN +2.01% com Inc. for more than 18 times their list price, the manufacturer’s latest attempt to help bring some order to the chaotic market for protective equipment.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in California, 3M said Mao Yu and his affiliated companies sold what he described as 3M masks for an average price of $23.21 each on Amazon. 3M’s N95 masks, which can block 95% of very small particles including droplets containing the new coronavirus, have a list price of around $1.25. Mr. Yu charged customers over $350,000 in total, 3M and Amazon said. Mr. Yu, who 3M says lives in California, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Dharmesh Mehta, vice president of customer trust at Amazon, said the e-commerce giant was working with 3M to keep counterfeiters and price gougers off its platform. Amazon said it has removed more than 500,000 offers of pandemic-related products and suspended more than 6,000 seller accounts for alleged price gouging, including on masks.

The largest U.S. producer of N95 masks, 3M has come under pressure from the Trump administration to do more to increase production of what has become a critical piece of equipment for front-line workers confronting the pandemic. 3M said the lawsuit is part of its strategy to remove high-price and low-quality masks from the market and to protect its reputation. 3M has filed more than a dozen lawsuits against mask sellers in recent months, alleging price gouging, trade-mark-infringement and false advertising.

“It saddens me that there are so many people taken advantage of in the pandemic,” said Colette Durst, a trademark lawyer for 3M.

In the lawsuit, 3M claimed Mr. Yu sold 3M-labeled masks across multiple accounts on Amazon. 3M is asking Mr. Yu to stop selling 3M-branded products and to turn over any profits from previous sales to 3M, which the company said it would donate to charity.

3M said it has worked with technology companies to remove more than 3,000 offers for masks it believed to be counterfeit from online marketplaces including Amazon, as well as to remove 4,000 posts it believed to be deceptive from social-media sites.

Hospitals and governments around the U.S. have been flooded with offers from vendors that say they have high-quality masks to sell. Some of those masks have fallen short of certified standards in subsequent tests.

Some mask sellers have registered domain names including “3M” or other wording that suggests an affiliation with the company, 3M said. 3M said it has worked with technology companies to remove 100 internet addresses that implied 3M affiliation.

“The lawsuits are one tool in our tool kit to go after this kind of activity,” said Kevin Rhodes, deputy general counsel for 3M.

By Austen Hufford