Fact Check

Are Thieves Handing Out Masks With Chemicals That Make You Pass Out?

Memes exploiting fear over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic have been widespread on social media.

Published April 3, 2020

Young woman with face mask in the street (Getty Images/Stock photo)
Young woman with face mask in the street (Image courtesy of Getty Images/Stock photo)
Thieves are exploiting the coronavirus pandemic by dousing masks in chemicals that render people unconscious and then robbing them.
UPDATE: This old hoax returned once again in January 2022. Read our more recent fact check for full details.

In late March and early April 2020, a hoax circulated on Facebook "warning" people that criminals were handing out face masks "door-to-door" amid the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus disease pandemic. The masks purportedly contained a chemical that caused the wearer to fall unconscious and allowed the criminal to then rob them.

The wording of the message was vague, which allowed it to spread globally, and also made it impossible to verify with any local or even federal law enforcement agency. But we found no warnings from any such agency or from any news outlets reporting that such crimes were occurring. By searching the text of the message on Facebook, we located two videos of apparent social media stunts in which people acted out the scenario, but no evidence that the warning was legitimate.

Because no evidence exists that this crime is occurring in a widespread fashion, and because the content of the warning spreading on social media was too vague to even verify, we rate this claim "False."

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who started her career as a daily newspaper reporter and has covered everything from crime to government to national politics. She has written for ... read more

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