American Consequences - May 2020

with a company in India, he was ripped off on a

could have taken a lot more. “I wasn’t sure if the whole thing would blow over in a week, and I’d be left sitting on a mountain of face masks,” he said. In fact, the opposite happened. James sold the next batch, and within days, China – the world’s largest producer of face masks by far – banned face mask exports. Wuhan, then emerging as the virus epicenter, is home to some of the biggest face mask factories in the world. With Chinese face masks off the market, supply dried up for the rest of the world. James went back to Google. “I went through the first three pages of search results, and just started calling and buying.” He imported face masks into Hong Kong from around a dozen countries, running up his credit-card bill. “I was getting around 20,000 masks from different factories. Then I found one in Poland that could deliver a few hundred thousand.” James’ Hong Kong moms Facebook group apparently included some power players, and soon a big university in Hong Kong got in touch with James. “Can you bring us 1 million face masks?” they asked. It was a tall order. A lot of the countries that James had been buying from were starting to ban face mask exports to secure them for domestic consumption. The day that he was about to pull the trigger on a deal with a plant in Uzbekistan (“They weren’t great quality, but face masks are face masks,” James says), the government stopped exports. That’s when James turned to India, the Wild West of face mask scammers. On his first deal

300,000-mask order, erasing the profits of the previous six weeks. Then as India realized what it was up

“I wasn’t sure if the whole thing would blow over in a week, and I’d be left sitting on a mountain of face masks." The university in Hong Kong was a big buyer, and a commissioner from the police got in touch with James. Wary from experience, James noticed that the e-mail address was a bit off... It turned out that the “commissioner” was in fact a scammer. Then someone from the Australian government got in touch (“I insisted on meeting him in person,” James said)... then a representative of the Netherlands. They were real buyers. And soon, France came knocking. “How did you get so much business, so quickly – with a thousand other Googling guys doing pretty much the same thing?” I asked. “I was a real person, I was one of the first, and I delivered,” James told me. Desperate buyers are well-fertilized ground for swindlers. A fresh-faced young American guy who speaks Mandarin with a Chinese logistics firm against, face mask exports were shut down there, too. Fortunately, face mask producers in China, where the curve had been flattened, were by then open for business again.

American Consequences


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