As Omicron Surges, So Do Testing Scams
Scammers have taken advantage of the coronavirus pandemic from the start, but the recent surge of the highly infectious omicron variant is providing them with more opportunities to fleece the public.
Omicron's rapid spread means that those who suspect they've been infected or exposed may not be able to be tested right away due to high demand. So they often scour the internet in hopes of finding a provider that can do it quickly.
Enter the latest wave of COVID-19 scammers.
- In San Francisco, authorities allege that an unauthorized COVID-19 test operator, Community Wellness America Inc., scammed people out of money or personal information at pop-up clinics. On Jan. 20, City Attorney David Chiu issued subpoenas seeking records from the company.
- A company called Center for Covid Control is under investigation in several states for operating suspected scam testing sites. These include allegations that the company failed to provide or provided inaccurate test results. On Jan. 19, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison sued the company, contending that it engaged in "deceptive and misleading" practices in an effort to gain reimbursement payments from insurers.
- Earlier this month in Philadelphia, city officials warned residents to avoid pop-up tents that had suddenly emerged and were offering free tests in exchange for personal information.
Other Scamming Forms
On Jan. 19, the Better Business Bureau issued a warning about testing scams that don't involve physical testing sites. The BBB said that some scammers ask people to provide personal and insurance information or payment on websites designed to look legitimate. After victims do that and receive a test date at a pharmacy, they discover that there is no record of a reservation.
Another popular scam during the omicron surge is phishing emails related to COVID-19 testing. Between October and January, these ventures increased by 521%, according to the computer security firm Barracuda. Many of these phishing scams involved offers of fake at-home testing kits, Barracuda noted.
Home testing scams have also drawn the attention of officials around the country, who are warning consumers to be wary. In Michigan, Attorney General Dana Nessel recently encouraged residents to be certain that the test they're purchasing is certified by the Food and Drug Administration and to diligently check out the seller before they buy.
Meanwhile, officials are also directing critical attention to some companies for activities that aren't scams but may be deceptive. On Jan. 19, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it had ordered 20 companies "to immediately stop making baseless claims that their products and supposed therapies can treat or prevent COVID-19."
What You Should Do
Those who are searching for COVID-19 tests or at-home testing kits should use caution. Some companies that are offering tests may not be qualified or equipped to do it, and some who say they can conduct tests or provide kits are full-blown cybercriminals.
If you think you need a COVID-19 test because of a possible infection or exposure, here are a few specific pieces of advice from public officials and the BBB:
- The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention reminds people that no-cost tests are available to everyone in the U.S. at health centers and select pharmacies. If anyone asks you to pay for a test, it's a scam.
- Only get tested at authorized sites. Visit your state or local health department's website to find out where those sites are.
- Be wary of unsolicited phone calls, texts, or emails that offer fast tests or test-kit shipments.
- Pay close attention to any websites that offer fast testing or kits by looking for any misspellings or unfamiliar names in the URL bar. Scammers are highly adept at making these sites look official or legitimate.
- If you suspect a scam, report it. You can do so through the office of your state attorney general, or through a consumer hotline at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Office of Inspector General. In addition, you can file a report on the BBB's Scam Tracker.
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