19 Investigates: Can anyone be exempt from wearing a mask in places where it’s mandated?

Published: Jul. 6, 2020 at 5:15 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - As scammers continue to take advantage of people during the pandemic, members of the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad are warning there is nothing you can buy or carry to exempt you from the mask mandate we’re all being told to follow right now in Cleveland.

Consumer advocates say “mask exemption cards” are circulating all over the country.

Sue McConnell with the BBB says the Department of Justice sent out a warning after the cards went up for sale online last week.

“[The creators] made it seem very official and blessed by a government agency that you did not have to wear a mask and that it was a violation of the Americans with disabilities Act to require you to wear a mask,” she said.

The card threatens to fine businesses thousands of dollars if they do not comply with the rights listed on the card.

“It’s just a worthless card,” McConnell said. “They carry a Department of Justice logo on them, in some cases, which is not authorized by the DOJ.”

It’s kind of like buying a service animal vest.

“I believe that might be a good comparison,” McConnell said.

A quick search shows you can easily get one of those on the internet. But, just putting it on a dog does not certify it as a service animal or exempt it from rules.

In the same way, McConnell says carrying the card means nothing.

“This card is not an authority by a government agency to preclude you for any reason from wearing a face mask for any reason,” she said.

19 News discovered that while the Freedom to Breathe Agency listed on the card is not charging for them now, the “agency” has an updated version of the card available on their website.

The DOJ emblem has been replaced by another FTBA logo.

People can download and print the cards for free.

Regardless, McConnell’s warning stretches further than consumers. She says business owners need to be aware of what’s going on here.

“They do not have to comply with what it says on the card,” she said. “They have a right to have that [mask] policy.”

McConnell says the Cleveland BBB has yet to see the attempted use of the cards locally.

Officials are issuing this warning trying to get ahead of the issue.

You make a report by contacting the BBB or the Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs at 216-443-7035.

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