A woman uses a nasal swab while conducting a COVID-19 rapid testShare on Pinterest
Experts say you should be wary of purchasing COVID-19 test kits online. Jimena Roquero/Stocksy
  • Experts are alerting consumers that scammers are trying to sell fake COVID-19 testing kits online.
  • They say you can protect yourself by checking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website for a list of tests the agency has approved.
  • They also warn against providing too much information to an online vendor as some scammers are trying to get personal data for future use in identity theft.
  • Experts add that some scammers are also setting up fake COVID-19 testing sites in pop-up tents or another temporary facilities.

The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has spiked demand for COVID-19 testing.

Scammers have taken notice, with some selling fake COVID-19 test kits online while others use bogus testing sites to rip off unsuspecting consumers and even gather personal data for future use in identity thefts schemes.

“It’s a real problem. Not only are these tests a waste of money, but they also increase the risk of spreading the disease and users not getting proper medical treatment,” Dr. Emily Volk, president of the College of American Pathologists, told Healthline.

“With scarcity of testing options available, consumers have become desperate, and a lot of bad actors have emerged to capitalize on this vulnerability,” Justin Simons, the CEO and founder of certified and accredited COVID-19 testing lab Mylabsdirect, told Healthline. “We have been approached by a number of fly-by-night groups asking how much we would pay them to send us samples. The vast majority have absolutely no background in healthcare.”

There are some relatively simple ways to protect yourself from being scammed by a fake COVID-19 test.

If you’re thinking of purchasing a COVID-19 at-home test kit online, it takes only a couple of minutes to confirm whether it’s real or fake by checking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) website.

The FDA maintains a running list of every SARS-CoV-2 antigen diagnostic test approved under its emergency use authorization (EUA) process. The list includes several types of test kits and features product brand names for easy reference.

“Scammers often claim that the Food and Drug Administration has approved the test being offered to you,” Steven Weisman, founder of the scamicide.com blog, told Healthline. “Before taking or purchasing any kind of coronavirus test, you should first confirm that the test is approved by the FDA and consult with your primary care physician about taking such a test. You also should only buy the tests through sources that you have confirmed are legitimate, and be very careful when ordering them online.”

Dr. Eric Cioe-Peña, the director of Global Health and an emergency physician at Staten Island University Hospital in New York, told Healthline that “it is almost impossible from looking at a test to determine whether it is fraudulent or not.”

“The best resource that consumers can use is utilizing the FDA website… to determine whether the products are FDA authorized and not [from] an identified … company that has received warning letters from the FDA for producing fraudulent tests,” he added.

Being selective about where you buy your at-home test also can help protect against fraud, said Geoff Trenkle, D.O., co-founder of Total Testing Solutions, which provides COVID-19 testing in the Los Angeles area.

“You should not purchase any COVID-19 Antigen over-the-counter (OTC) test kit unless it is from a reliable source,“ Trenkle told Healthline. “Street vendors are an immediate red flag as they are either buying from other sources and marking them up considerably or using fake test kits in old boxes.”

Shady vendors also may be selling test kits from overseas that the FDA hasn’t approved, Trenkle said.

“If you cannot find a business license or some proof they are a reliable business, then you should not buy test kits from them,” he noted. “Packaging should also not be in foreign languages, and all kits should come in boxes, not as individual pieces or in plastic bags.”

Volk warned against buying test kits online unless it’s from a website operated by a trustworthy vendor, such as large pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens.

Weisman added that scammers “are adept at marketing bogus antibody tests through social media, email, and telephone calls.

“They also are even going door to door selling their bogus tests,” he said. “You should immediately be skeptical of any antibody test being offered through these means. You also should be wary of anyone who contacts you offering a free coronavirus antibody test or even offers to compensate you for taking such a test, as these promises generally are made by scammers interested in gathering information from you to use to make you a victim of identity theft.”

Many healthcare systems have responded to the Omicron surge by increasing community-based testing options, often offering rapid antigen tests.

In some instances, however, scammers have raised pop tents or set up storefronts billed as “COVID-19 Test Sites.”

How do you tell a fake test site from a real one?

“Most legitimate sites are listed on county and city emergency management websites,” Simons said.

“Ask the testing site what lab will be processing your test and request a copy of the processing lab’s CLIA number,” he added. “You can look this number up online to see where the lab is located and to get in contact with them if you have trouble receiving your results or have questions.”

When in doubt, said Volk, ask your doctor to recommend a COVID-19 testing site.

The Biden administration recently rolled out a multibillion-dollar program to distribute at least 500 million free at-home COVID-19 test kits in a bid to combat the spread of the Omicron variant.

Every U.S. household is eligible to order up to four test kits from the COVIDtests.gov website. Tests are delivered via the U.S. Postal Service.

However, warns Weisman, “scammers will be setting up phony websites that appear to be the official government website.

“The official government website only asks for your name and address,” he noted. “It does not ask for other information such as your Social Security number, which could be used for purposes of identity theft.”