The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) wants consumers to know that COVID-19 test kits are in such short supply that scammers are jumping in the fray to “help” with shortages. Fraudsters are going as far as creating fake COVID-19 testing sites to market fake and unauthorized at-home testing kits. Complicating matters, the FTC says, is that those fake websites are so authentic-looking that they’re hard to spot.
“They look real, with legitimate-looking signs, tents, hazmat suits, and realistic-looking tests,” said Ari Lazarus, a consumer education specialist with the FTC. “And the damage these fake testing sites can cause is very real.”
The scammers are luring in victims by hawking “free” test kits, but what they’re really after is personal information like Social Security numbers, credit card information, and other health data. All of that information can be leveraged for identity theft or to run up a person’s credit card bill.
“Worst of all, they’re not giving people the help they need to stay healthy,” Lazarus said.
What to be on the lookout for
The FTC cautions consumers that there are four things to keep in mind when looking into testing sites. Here are the things the agency says to do:
Get a referral. Instead of trying to figure out whether a site is legitimate on your own, the FTC suggests that you go somewhere you have been referred to by your doctor or state or local health department. In short, don’t trust a random testing site you stumble upon while online.
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.
Check with officials to see if a site is legitimate. Again, rather than going it alone and playing detective, the FTC says to check with your local police or sheriff’s office to find out if a testing site is legitimate. If the authorities determine that a testing site is fake, they can make an effort to shut it down and keep others from getting conned.
Dispute scam charges. If you think that you may have already been scammed and shared your credit card information, the FTC says to get in front of the situation by disputing the charge.