(CBS News) — Federal officials are warning that cards purporting to exempt people from having to wear face masks when in public are phony. The cards, emblazoned with an eagle logo but replete with misspellings, state that holders are shielded from mandates requiring masks be worn in public, a step recommended by health experts as a vital defense against the coronavirus.
“Wearing a face mask posses a mental and/or physical risk to me. Under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA), I am not required to disclose my condition to you,” states the card, which misspells “poses” and incorrectly names the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The card also claims that businesses or groups that enforce requirements to wear a mask could be reported to the Freedom to Breathe Agency, the outfit selling the cards. One version includes the logo of the Justice Department and lists a phone number to report ADA violations.
The cards are not tied to any government entity, according to Matthew Martin, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina. A box of roughly 500 of the cards had been selling online for about $50.
“Do not be fooled by the chicanery and misappropriation of the DOJ eagle,” he stated Friday in a news release. “These cards do not carry the force of law. The ‘Freedom to Breathe Agency,’ or ‘FTBA,’ is not a government agency.”
The Federal Trade Commission on Monday issued its own warning to consumers regarding the cards circulating online and on social media, urging Americans to get their information from government agencies instead of from social media. The ADA’s official website also blasted the cards as “fraudulent.”
Lenka Koloma, founder of the Freedom to Breathe Agency, advertised the cards on her Facebook page, and sold them on a Shopify site, which was no longer available on Monday.
But Koloma defended the cards on social media, stating in a post on Facebook that the cards were offered as “an educational tool based on overwhelming amount of citizens reaching out to us for having health issues and unable to wear a mask.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised people to wear cloth face coverings in public, with many states, cities and businesses mandating their use. Recent research pegged the risk of transmitting the coronavirus at more than 17% without a mask, social distancing or other measure, while using a mask dropped that rate to roughly 3%.
The global death toll from COVID-19 now exceeds 500,000, with nearly 126,000 of those fatalities in the U.S.