Debunked: There's no evidence that criminals are dousing facemasks with chemicals so they can rob people

The false message has been shared across Facebook and WhatsApp in Ireland and other countries.


A MESSAGE IS being shared across Facebook and WhatsApp claiming that criminals are handing out chemically-laced facemasks to members of the public so they can drug and rob them. 

The rumour, which started on Facebook, 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!!” 

Screen Shot 2020-04-15 at 11.07.35 The screenshot in question.

The message, which does not name any specific locations, has been shared thousands of times around Ireland and the UK as well as in the US and parts of south-east Asia. 

An Garda Síochána, when asked for evidence as to whether the message was false which would help to stop it from being spread, instead initially refused to answer the question. 

A spokesperson said: “An Garda Síochána do not comment on third-party social media sites.

“Any member of the public should report criminal activity to An Garda Síochána and not on social media.

“An Garda Síochána will treat any reports of this type of activity seriously. Clear public information messages are required at this time and An Garda Síochána request that media do not inadvertently propagate social media myths or fake news at this time.”

In follow-up correspondence, gardaí said they needed an exact time and date of an alleged incident to check the internal garda Pulse system. As this was not forthcoming, they could not outright debunk the claims. 

However, they did say that an incident such as the one described in the message would have been logged and senior officers in charge of the Covid-19 garda reaction would have been informed. This has not been the case. 

Further, a check of local and national news sources around Ireland also shows that there have been no reports of any such incidents taking place. also carried out a search on social media for anyone describing such an incident happening to them or someone known to them, in case there was an example which had not been reported to gardaí or covered by the media. In an extensive search, no such examples could be found. 

Other countries

A number of police forces around the world have already commented on the exact same claim when it was circulating in the countries in which they operate. 

The news wire Reuters dismissed the claim as false at the start of this month. That news organisation contacted police forces across the UK who effectively said the same thing as gardaí – that there is no evidence whatsoever to support the claim that this is happening.

The US fact-checking organisation Politifact also looked into the claim and found no evidence from police, and no reports in the media, of this ever happening in America.  

Reporters in Taiwan and in Singapore have debunked the same claim, with police in both countries reporting no evidence that any incidents of this kind had taken place. 

There is not one shred of evidence that this is happening in Ireland or anywhere in the world. The fact that the exact same message has been shared in a significant number of countries also dilutes any chance that it might have a sliver of truth to it.  

However, gardaí have warned the public that there are scams in operation around the country and advised the public to be wary of anyone who comes to their door. The advice is to always ask for the ID of someone selling something door-to-door. You can read more on the various Irish coronavirus scams in operation here



Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: 


There is a lot of false news and scaremongering  being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 


Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

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