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Watch out when buying (cheap) WMD gear

Having said that, those of you who are familiar with my writing know that I have no patience with people who sell snake oil or blatantly inflate prices on gear just to cash in on the fear of consumers, post-9/11. I will take every opportunity I get to expose them, and I heartily encourage all who run across similar fraudsters to do the same.

For the few who aren't aware of what I'm talking about, a quick search of the Web will show you that shortly after 9/11, the public's panick from the thought of "Weapons of Mass Destruction" created a booming market in the sale of personal protective equipment. While I'll save my thoughts on that topic for a later column, I will tell you that not all of the companies who are filling this demand are keeping the best interests of the public at heart.

In fact, we have far too many people in this country who have no interests other than separating the uninformed consumer from his or her cash. Because many of them advertise solely on the Internet, it makes it very difficult for the authorities to find them and prosecute them.

This is why I was heartened to learn that state's Attorney Generals in Florida recently began prosecuting a Fort Lauderdale company for using bait and switch tactics, selling substandard or misrepresented equipment, and refusing to answer an investigative subpoena.

As of this writing, CEO Group, Inc. -- doing business as Gas Masks U.S.A. on the Internet -- hasn't been found guilty, but the complaint against them alleges, among other things, they offered for sale a $49 gas mask. When individuals attempted to order the mask, they were told it was out of stock and instead pressured to buy a more expensive mask, the complaint says.

Additionally, masks they sold as "new" were believed to actually be used masks that were simply washed; they also knowingly sold expired filters, the complaint says.

Jon Burnstein, with the Florida Sun-Sentinel, in a conversation with CEO Group's attorney, reported that the owner, Scott Joseph, was the victim of a reneged contract with his vendor, and that he subsequently bought and started selling five THOUSAND Canadian Surplus gas masks.

Allow me to tell you why there are so many surplus Canadian gas masks: they're all defective.

A few years ago, the company that supplied the respirators had a problem with the voicemitter. Poor quality adhesives dried out, allowing cracks to be either present or to rapidly develop in this membrane that allows speech, but not lethal agents, to pass. The Canadian Army had to hustle to replace all of these, and now this mask, along with the dryrotted Israeli ones, make up the mainstay of 'masks' sold by unscrupulous individuals.

Regardless of outcome, this case underscores several points:

First, don't buy cheap gear.
If everyone is selling an item at X dollars, and one guy has it $100 under X, there's something wrong. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.

Second, don't buy life safety gear from unknowns.
There are plenty of reputable places that will sell you a system, help you find training for it, and service the system after the sale. The money you think you're saving by buying from fly-by-night dot com really will wind up costing you more in the long run.

Third, help others.
When you see people selling this cheap stuff, bring it to other peoples' attention. Then, if they persist, bring it to the attention of your state Attorney General.

In closing, I hope the State of Florida makes an example of this company, and that other states follow their lead. And, I pray that whomever bought those masks never has to learn the true value of the purchase they made.

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