[UPDATED on Monday, Feb. 17 at 10:15am] A Mothership reader who had spent approximately S$420 on 10 boxes of masks from MedicalLex received an update from the company that her order has been cancelled.
She shared with us this email that they sent:
The email claimed that the cancellation was due to "an unexpected delay of shipment which has heavily affected our delivery time".
The Mothership reader alerted us this morning that she received a full refund from the company.
At the time of writing this update, the MedicalLex Facebook page is no longer available, although the website appears to still be functional.
[End of update.]
And there have been a fair share of individuals and businesses taking advantage of the public panic, reselling masks and exorbitant prices.
One such business that has been accused of scamming consumers is MedicalLex, which sells disposable face masks.
You may have seen their ads floating around Facebook over the past week or so.
A first glance at MedicalLex
When Mothership first visited MedicalLex's website on Feb. 10, we found that users must first wait "in line", before being given 10 minutes on the website.
There were apparently 176 people ahead of us, and we had a wait time of one minute.
After about two minutes, during which the little walking person graphic moved across the screen, we were directed to MedicalLex's homepage.
The website queue now appears to have been removed, and visiting the webpage brings you directly to the home page.
A quick look at MedicalLex's website shows a legitimate-looking design with clean graphics, decent grammar, and glowing reviews.
The website sells one product: boxes of disposable surgical masks that come in packs of 10, with five packs per box for 50 masks per box.
Each box of 50 is selling at US$28.99 (S$40.20), although the currency in which customers are charged is not immediately obvious until checkout.
The address on the website footer locates it in Arizona, U.S.
According to the website, the masks are produced in Canada, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, "etc", and even includes an additional note directly stating that their masks are not made in or shipped from China:
Here are the countries it ships from.
However, a closer look at the website shows some apparent inconsistencies.
Tens of thousands of customers in one week
MedicalLex claims on its homepage to have served 70,000 "happy customers".
The information in the website's footer shows a slight discrepancy of 68,500+ customers.
However, according to a Whois lookup, the website's domain was only created on Feb. 4, 2020.
Similarly, the brand's Facebook page was only set up on February 5, 2020.
According to MedicalLex's FAQs, it normally takes one to two business days to process the orders, and then another one to two weeks to be delivered, depending on customers' locations and selected shipping options.
There is, however, the option to opt for express shipping, which allegedly takes two to five working days and costs US$29.56 (S$40.98), more than a box of masks.
In addition, MedicalLex has a number of notices on its website to encourage customers to buy quickly, by claiming low supply and high demand.
For example, these messages appear at the top of the checkout screen:
In addition, the website claims to boast more than 750 glowing reviews by happy customers.
However, only 20 of the 759 reviews appear to load.
In addition, the images and comments of the "customers" who supposedly wrote the reviews appear on other websites and social media platforms.
For example, "Michel" had this to say about MedicalLex masks:
"I got exactly what I ordered as described by the seller. quality is very good and light comfortable to wear. there is no unpleasant odour they remain fairly cool and easily breathable to wear during use.I purchased 50 masks which came in 5 clear bags of ten great to keep clean dust free until required."
Her review, however, matches word-for-word the review that Amazon user Tanya left on this product on May 10, 2019:
Similarly, the review by "Todd K." for MedicalLex reads exactly like another Amazon customer's review, which was posted on Feb. 10, 2017.
A reverse image search of "Michel" shows that the image appears to have been posted under multiple hashtags meaning "mask" or "face mask" in German, Spanish, and Italian.
"Mike" raved about the quality of the masks' fabric and lamented that he wasn't able to buy more masks due to the website's restrictions.
"Mike" also appeared as a sample image in this tutorial about how to sharpen portraits on Photoshop.
And "Jennifer" from Atlanta, Georgia in the U.S., who said that MedicalLex is her "favorite", appeared in a stock photo taken in Spain.
Skeptical Facebook users
Some netizens have taken to Facebook to share their experiences with MedicalLex.
Replying to one Facebook user, Bryanne Yang, MedicalLex confirmed that there are 50 masks per box. However, replying a comment by one ManNèè Ow, the page affirmed that there are 250 masks in one box.
Welyn Cat's post also included screenshots of multiple other commenters complaining about paying large amounts of money and urging one another to call their respective banks.
However, those comments don't seem to be under MedicalLex's Facebook post from February 6.
While Facebook shows that there should 122 comments on the post, the majority of them are unable to be viewed.
A Mothership reader told us that she tried to comment on the posts on MedicalLex's Facebook page to "inform everyone that it's a scam" but claimed to eventually have been blocked.
One of the few comments of a positive nature on MedicalLex's Facebook page is by one Serena Scott.
However, a closer look at Serena Scott's profile shows that she has only one Facebook friend.
In addition, her Facebook URL has a distinctly different name from "Serena Scott" - Zahra Shirafkan.
A number of people have bought from the website
A number of people in both Malaysia and Singapore have made purchases from MedicalLex.
Malaysian Chinese-language newspaper Sinchew Daily reported that the Commercial Crime Investigation Department of Bukit Aman has received 25 reports so far, and that preliminary estimations of the amount spent total to RM460,000 (S$154,365).
Another Mothership reader informed us that she and 10 of her "close contacts" made purchases on the website.
She claims to have spent around S$420 on surgical masks from the website, as MedicalLex caps the number of boxes that any one individual can purchase to 10.
She said that the 10 people she knows that also purchased from the website spent similar amounts of money.
In an update posted on Feb. 10, MedicalLex claimed that a batch of 100,000 masks had been packaged and shipped from Germany and Ukraine to their warehouse and is expected to arrive on Feb. 18.
They also addressed people's claims that they had not yet received their orders, saying that no orders are delayed, but are yet to be dispatched.
The company also threatened legal action against those who "defame" the brand without proof, and shared photos to further prove their legitimacy, such as of a quality service certificate and a box of masks, both with details blurred out.