Demand for COVID-19 tests has never been as great as it is now, as the omicron variant spreads with unprecedented speed.
At-home and professional testing availability has come under intense strain, with test-seekers waiting hours in long lines, traveling great distances or paying well above asking price for an at-home test.
Officials are warning of scammers trying to take advantage of the situation.
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Here is what we know and some tips to protect yourself.
What are the scams?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week issued an alert about coronavirus testing and vaccination scams.
“Scammers are selling fake and unauthorized at-home COVID-19 test kits in exchange for your personal or medical information,” the department wrote on its website. “Make sure to purchase FDA-approved COVID-19 test kits from legitimate providers.”
The federal agency also noted schemes targeting Medicare beneficiaries and retirement communities, offering fake tests in exchange for personal details, and in some cases, drawing blood and billing federal health care services.
Some suspicious street-corner operations have been reported as well.
What are officials doing?
In at least one major city, officials are fighting back. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion Tuesday to address fraudulent coronavirus test sites and at-home kits as a surge in cases driven by the omicron variant has many people scrambling to find testing appointments and equipment.
“In the past month, demand for COVID-19 testing in Los Angeles County and across the country has skyrocketed, drastically outpacing supply,” according to the motion, introduced by Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “Unfortunately, this has led to some taking advantage of the situation by distributing and setting up fraudulent COVID-19 tests and testing sites.”
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And in Oregon, the Department of Justice and the Better Business Bureau have launched investigations into an Illinois-based company that runs coronavirus testing sites across the nation. At least two people filed complaints about the Center for COVID Control testing sites to the Oregon Justice Department in October, USA TODAY reported. They expressed concerns about the safety and legitimacy of the sites.
Price gouging can be reported to the Oregon Department of Justice at https://bit.ly/3rkcJ3s. Learn more about fraud at https://bit.ly/3GzSogA.
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What are some tips to protect yourself?
Here is some information from federal regulators:
- Be careful! Scammers are selling fake and unauthorized at-home COVID-19 test kits in exchange for your personal or medical information.
- Make sure to purchase FDA approved COVID-19 test kits from legitimate providers.
- Do not buy fake vaccination cards, do not make your own vaccination cards, and do not fill-in blank vaccination record cards with false information.
- As volunteers go door-to-door to inform communities across the country about COVID-19 vaccinations, be sure to protect yourself from criminals who are seeking to commit fraud.
- Do not provide personal, medical, or financial details to anyone in exchange for vaccination information, and obtain vaccinations from trusted providers.
- Offers to purchase COVID-19 vaccination cards are scams. Valid proof of COVID-19 vaccination can be provided to individuals only by legitimate providers administering vaccinations.
- Be cautious of COVID-19 survey scams. Do not give your personal, medical or financial information to anyone claiming to offer money or gifts in exchange for your participation in a COVID-19 vaccination survey.
- Be mindful of how you dispose of COVID-19 materials such as syringes, vials, vial container boxes, vaccination record cards, and shipment or tracking records. Improper disposal of these items could be used by bad actors to commit fraud.
- Photos of COVID-19 vaccination cards should not be shared on social media. Posting content that includes your date of birth, health care details or other personally identifiable information can be used to steal your identity.
- Beneficiaries should be cautious of unsolicited requests for their personal, medical, and financial information. Medicare will not call beneficiaries to offer COVID-19 related products, services, or benefit review.
And there are several ways to protect yourself online and over the phone as well:
- Be suspicious of any unexpected calls or visitors offering COVID-19 tests or supplies. If you receive a suspicious call, hang up immediately.
- Do not respond to, or open hyperlinks in, text messages about COVID-19 from unknown individuals.
- Ignore offers or advertisements for COVID-19 testing or treatments on social media sites. If you make an appointment for a COVID-19 test online, make sure the location is an official testing site.
- Do not give your personal or financial information to anyone claiming to offer HHS grants related to COVID-19.
- Be aware of scammers pretending to be COVID-19 contact tracers. Legitimate contact tracers will never ask for your Medicare number, financial information, or attempt to set up a COVID-19 test for you and collect payment information for the test.
If you suspect COVID-19 health care fraud, report it immediately online to the Oregon Department of Justice at https://bit.ly/3rkcJ3s or call (877) 877-9392