Experts predicted the surge caused by the Omicron variant would peak at the end of January, and communities are continuing to brace for hospital bed shortages and small business closures. So, it’s no surprise that the country has been dealing with a COVID-19 test kit shortage in the wake of this latest wave. When an in-demand product is in short supply, you can bet that scams aren’t far behind.
Last month, the Federal Trade Commission issued a pair of fraud warnings that identified new online and in-person COVID-related scams that specifically targeted those who needed to get tested. Fraudsters saw that Americans were desperately trying to get tested to protect others and follow employer protocols, so they got to work creating fake COVID test kits and test sites.
How do I know my COVID test kit is real?
The FTC says that the fake COVID test kits sold online present very real risks to those who buy them: “Using these fake products isn’t just a waste of money, it increases your risk of unknowingly spreading COVID-19 or not getting the appropriate treatment.”
That’s why the agency published four tips for anyone looking to buy a test kit:
- Make sure the test you’re buying is authorized by the FDA. Check the FDA’s lists of antigen diagnostic tests and molecular diagnostic tests before you buy to find the tests authorized for home use. (EUA is “emergency use authorization.”)
- Check out a seller before you buy, especially if you’re buying from a site you don’t know. Search online for the website, company, or seller’s name plus words like “scam,” “complaint,” or “review.”
- Compare online reviews from a wide variety of websites. You can get a good idea about a company, product, or service from reading user reviews on various retail or shopping comparison sites. Think about the source of the review. Ask yourself: Where is this review coming from? Is it from an expert organization or individual customers?
- Pay by credit card. If you’re charged for an order you never got, or for a product that’s not as advertised, contact your credit card company and dispute the charge.
How do I know the COVID test site is real?
The FTC warns that fake COVID test sites “look real, with legitimate-looking signs, tents, hazmat suits, and realistic-looking tests.” In addition to not actually providing the service that you need, some of these sites may send you a bill for their advertised “free tests” and use official-looking forms to steal your information.
The agency says these are signs that a COVID test site might be fake:
- Get a referral.Go somewhere you have been referred to by your doctor or state or local health department’s website. In other words, don’t trust a random testing site you see around town.
- Check the source. Did you hear about a new testing site on a neighborhood social media group or email listserv? That “neighbor” could actually be a scammer. See if the site is also listed on your state or local health department’s website.
- Not sure if a site is legit? Check with your local police or sheriff’s office. If a legitimate testing site has been set up, they should know about it. And, if a fake testing site is operating, they’ll want to know.
What should I do if I think I’ve been scammed?
The FTC says that you should report suspicious activity at ReportFraud.FTC.gov. Getting reports from consumers is one of the ways that government agencies are able to warn about emergent scams.
Sources: “How to avoid buying fake COVID tests online,” FTC.gov; “Don’t assume every COVID-19 test site is legit,” FTC.gov