How to avoid buying fake COVID tests online as kits become scarce

Nation/world
Officials say Americans should make sure that rapid at-home COVID-19 test kits they buy have been authorized by the FDA. Here's an example of an authorized test from iHealth Labs.(JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

Officials say Americans should make sure that rapid at-home COVID-19 test kits they buy have been authorized by the FDA. Here’s an example of an authorized test from iHealth Labs.(JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

With highly-sought-after COVID-19 test kits in short supply, federal authorities are warning Americans against buying fake testing kits online.

Rapid at-home test kits, which are sold over the counter and turn up results in just a few minutes, have been hard to find in stores since before the holidays.

In parts of California, residents struggling to secure appointments and hoping to avoid the long lines at overstretched testing sites have been heading to pharmacies for at-home kits, only to find the shelves empty.

Some desperate shoppers are turning online to find testing kits, which at times are being resold at a mark-up.

More concerning is that some are selling fake at-home testing kits that are not unauthorized in the U.S., authorities say.

“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.

The FDA said it found unauthorized fraudulent test kits being sold online, warning that those who use them could unknowingly spread the coronavirus or risk not getting the proper treatment.

“Using these fake products isn’t just a waste of money, it increases your risk of unknowingly spreading COVID-19 or not getting the appropriate treatment,” the FTC also warned.

How to avoid buying fake tests

Here’s what to watch out for If shopping online for a COVID-19 test kit, according tot he FTC:

  • Go to the FDA’s lists for antigen diagnostic tests and molecular diagnostic tests and make sure that the test you’re buying has been authorized by the FDA. If you can’t find the test’s name, then it hasn’t been authorized for use in the U.S.
  • Research the seller before you buy, especially if it’s a site you don’t know. Search online for the website, company or seller’s name along with words like “scam,” “complaint” or “review” and see if anything concerning pops up.
  • Compare online reviews from a variety of websites.
  • Pay by credit card. (If you’re charged for an order you never got, or for a product that’s not as advertised, you can contact your credit card company to dispute the charge.)

At-home COVID-19 tests available at U.S. stores include Abbott BinaxNOW, Quidel Quickvue, Acon FlowFlex, Ellume and Pixel by LabCorp.

In response to the increased demand driven by the omicron surge, retailers like CVS, Walgreens and Walmart have been limiting the number of at-home COVID-19 tests that customers can buy.

Some of the tests have also recently gotten more expensive after a White House agreement to sell the kits at-cost for three months expired.

In response to the mounting frustration over limited testing, the Biden administration announced Monday that health insurers will be required to cover up at-home COVID-19 tests.

Those who suspect they found scam seller or bogus tests available online can report it ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

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