Don’t get scammed: How to avoid fake COVID-19 tests

Coronavirus

FILE – Youngstown City Health Department worker Faith Terreri grabs two at-home COVID-19 test kits to be handed out during a distribution event, Dec. 30, 2021, in Youngstown, Ohio. Starting Saturday, private health insurers will be required to cover up to eight home COVID-19 tests per month for those on their plans, the Biden administration announced Monday, as it looks to lower costs and make testing for the virus more convenient amid rising frustrations. (AP Photo/David Dermer, File)

(NewsNation Now) — As demand for COVID-19 test kits remains high, federal and state officials are warning people to be wary of scammers selling fake COVID-19 test kits or manning unregulated pop-up testing sites, and giving tips on how to steer clear of them.

“It’s not a surprise that, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, fake and unauthorized at-home testing kits are popping up online as opportunistic scammers take advantage of the spike in demand,” the Federal Trade Commission said in an alert last week.

Likewise, in some areas, illegitimate pop-up COVID-19 testing states have become a cause for concern.

These sites can look real, the FTC says, with signs, tents, hazmat suits and tests that look legitimate. But these fake testing sites can cause real damage, as they’re not following sanitation protocols and are taking people’s personal information. 

NewsNation local affiliate WGN in Chicago reported that the Illinois Attorney General is telling people to be cautious when it comes to sites that are unlicensed or unregulated by a government agency.

In San Francisco, the Department of Public Health tweeted that unauthorized COVID-19 test sites have been popping up throughout the city, and in Philadelphia, health officials urged residents to avoid testing at pop-up tents because test collectors had falsely identified themselves as employees with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

When shopping for at-home COVID-19 tests, the FTC has some tips to avoid being duped:

  • Make sure the test is authorized by the Food and Drug Administration by looking at the organization’s list of of antigen diagnostic tests and molecular diagnostic tests authorized for home use.
  • Research the seller before you buy. Search online for their name plus words including “scam,” complaint” or “review.”
  • Compare online reviews from a wide variety of websites
  • Pay by credit card, so if you get a product that’s not as advertised, or never get one at all, you can contact your credit card company and dispute the charge.

To make sure the in-person COVID-19 test site you’re visiting is legitimate, the FTC says you should:

  • Get a referral from your doctor, or go to your state or local health department’s website instead of trusting a random testing site on the side of the road.
  • Ask your doctor first if you should get tested. Some people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms and are able to recover at home without medical care, and may not need to be tested again.
  • Check with your local police or sheriff’s office — if a legitimate testing site has been set up, they should know about it, according to the trade commission.

For those who choose to use a testing site not on a government-sponsored list or recommended by a doctor, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul suggests on his website that individuals consider: what tests the site administers; who analyzes the result; what laboratory the site uses; whether the site observes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 protocols; what personal information is being asked for; and how the site communicates the test results.

Those who spot a scam seller or bogus test site can report it at: ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

Amid the many challenges people have had when getting tested for coronavirus, President Joe Biden recently announced that the federal government will buy half a billion COVID-19 rapid test kits to distribute to people to use at home for free later this month. Starting Saturday, private health insurers will be required to pay for eight at-home COVID-19 tests. Americans will be able to either purchase these for free under their insurance or submit receipts for the tests for reimbursement.

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