The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a motion to come up with a plan to crack down on fraudulent coronavirus testing sites following reports of “suspicious-looking” sites popping up.
Residents have been raising concerns about fake COVID-19 testing sites appearing as pop-up tents in different vacant areas, including in parking lots, L.A. County officials said.
People think that they’re going to a legitimate testing site and provide their personal information, then never get the result back, according to the office of L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who introduced the motion.
It’s unclear how many fake testing sites have been operating in the county.
The Department of Consumer and Business Affairs said it has been hearing from people inquiring about “suspicious-looking pop-up testing sites.”
“Some have taken tests and not received results in the time frame promised. And some claimed to not receive test results at all,” department spokesman Jethro Rothe-Kushel told KTLA.
In parts of California, including L.A., the omicron-driven COVID-19 surge has left residents scrambling to find COVID-19 testing appointments, queuing in long lines and rushing to buy rapid test kits only to find them sold out.
“This perfect storm has left our residents desperately searching for much needed tests,” Barger said during a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday. “Unfortunately, this has led to some taking advantage of the situation by distributing and setting up fraudulent COVID-19 tests and testing sites.”
Barger said constituents have also raised concerns about identity theft from the alleged fake test sites.
The biggest red flag to watch out for: people shouldn’t be asked to provide their social security numbers to get tested, officials said.
“Like with any other purchase or contract, it’s best to stick to the institutions or companies you know and trust when choosing to get a COVID-19 test,” Rothe-Kushel said. “If a so-called testing site appears in an unusual setting or acts in an unprofessional manner, beware of possible fraud.”
County officials urged residents to visit covid19.lacounty.gov/testing/ to find testing locations that have been vetted. Those sites don’t require out-of-pocket costs, and provide testing regardless of health insurance or immigration status.
Fake testing kits online are also a concern
It’s not just fake testing sites that are raising concerns.
“It’s not a surprise that, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, fake and unauthorized at-home testing kits are popping up online as opportunistic scammers take advantage of the spike in demand,” the Federal Trade Commission said in an alert last week.
Officials warn that those who use fake tests could unknowingly spread the coronavirus or risk not getting the proper treatment.
What’s L.A. County doing?
The motion approved Tuesday calls for several county departments, including the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs and the Sheriff’s Department, to work together on a plan to mitigate COVID-19 testing fraud in L.A. County.
The different agencies will perform an analysis of the risk of fraudulent test sites and home test kits and develop an enforcement plan to get rid of them. The motion also called on the departments to develop a public education plan so county residents can learn the threats of fake COVID-19 testing.
“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. “We must do all we can to crack down on fraudulent COVID-19 tests and sites and prevent identity theft.”
Officials said those who believe their personal or financial information was compromised because they went to a fraudulent testing site should follow tips to avoid and report identity theft found here.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office also provides tips on how to avoid falling for COVID-19 scams.