False claim: criminals in the UK are handing out chemically-doused masks in order to commit robbery

British social media users have claimed criminals are going door to door handing out chemically doused masks in order to commit robbery during the new coronavirus pandemic. (here)  

The message, which has been shared in different countries, claims the thieves are pretending to be part of a local government initiative for distributing masks. It says that when worn the chemical masks “knock out” the victim so they can be robbed.

One example of the message from a UK Facebook user has been shared 1,400 times. It reads:

“WARNING A new thing circulating now. People are going door to door handing out masks. They say it’s a new initiative from local government. They ask you to please put it on to see if it fits. It’s doused with chemicals which knocks you out cold. They then rob you!! Please DO NOT accept masks from strangers. Remember friends, it’s a critical time and people are desperate, the crime rate will spike. Please be cautious & safe!!”

There is no evidence that this crime has taken place in the UK or elsewhere. Online searches do not bring up any crime reports, formal police warnings or news articles warning the public of the attacks.

The UK’s Greater Manchester Police told Reuters that while they could not definitively say the crime had not happened without being given a specific time, date and location, they did not have ‘any knowledge of these attacks.’ The South Wales Police likewise said they ‘had no such reports’ of them happening.

The message has been repeated word for word in posts shared across in at least three different countries - the UK, South Africa and the U.S.  (here) (here). This duplication is a feature of chain messages, which often lack key details or any indication of source - as here.

While there is no evidence of this particular crime, the UK’s Metropolitan Police force is advising the public to be vigilant around potential scams by “criminals looking to cash in on people’s fears about coronavirus”. (here)

The Met Police website states: “If you get an unsolicited home visit from anyone offering a service and asking for payment or to be let into your home, our advice is to immediately request and check their ID and credentials carefully.

“If you are not convinced or you still have suspicions, shut the door and report the matter to police by calling 101 or 999 in an emergency.”


False: there is no evidence criminals in Britain are handing out chemically-doused face masks in order to commit robbery. UK police forces have not released warnings or crime reports noting these such attacks. The message lacks detail and the same wording has been posted on social media in at least three different countries. UK police forces are urging people to be alert for coronavirus-related scams.