As the demand for COVID tests continues to surge along with infections due to the Omicron variant, officials are warning people against buying fraudulent tests online and at pop-up locations.
Since the holidays, it’s been difficult to get your hands on at-home COVID test kits, which are sold at most pharmacy stores and provide results within minutes. It’s been equally challenging to secure appointments at testing sites throughout the state. In turn, these factors have created a perfect storm for opportunistic scammers to take advantage of the unprecedented COVID surge.
“The harder it is to find a testing site, the more individuals that are predators … are going out and doing illegal activity with kits that are not even accredited and stealing identities of patients,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger told City News Service. Sellers have also been stealing patient data for purposes of identity theft, she added.
Barger called for county staff to establish a robust plan to crack down on fraudsters and create an educational campaign to alert the public of the risk.
“As the urgent need for testing reaches a crucial point, it is imperative that we ensure residents can be confident they are receiving an accurate and legitimate test without risking their private information,” Barger said Tuesday in a statement. “We must do all we can to crack down on fraudulent COVID-19 tests and sites and prevent identity theft.”
The Federal Trade Commission said it found unauthorized fraudulent test kits being sold online last week, warning that those who use them could unknowingly spread COVID or risk not getting the proper treatment.
“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,” the FTC also warned.
The FTC offered the following tips to avoid buying fraudulent tests:
— Check the FDA’s lists of antigen diagnostic tests and molecular diagnostic tests before buying;
— Conduct a web search for the seller’s name or website along with “scam,” “complaint” or “review;”
— Compare online reviews from a wide variety of websites; and
— Pay by credit card so that you can later dispute the charge, if necessary
State officials have also been quick to react to price gougers who have been increasing the price of at-home COVID tests by as much as triple the retail price. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order Saturday that prohibits sellers from raising prices of the test kits by more than 10 percent.
A report in response to Barger’s motion is expected back in 30 days.
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