7 On Your Side: Fake at home COVID tests are out there - how to spot them

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The number of fraudulent at-home COVID tests are on the rise, according to a consumer warning from the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"There's so many people looking for it, and the availability is so low," pharmacist Yaz Shah said. "The distribution is limited."

Neighborhood pharmacies and drug stores are running out of stock, and with demand so high for COVID tests, scammers are following the headlines.

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"They're setting up fake websites," said Colleen Tressler, FTC Consumer/Business Education. "They're saying they have merchandise that they don't have."

The Federal Trade Commission did a deep dive into its complaint database and found everything from bogus test kits to phony testing sites.

"You might not be getting accurate test results, right, and so you may be walking around thinking you're perfectly healthy, and then you're actually spreading COVID or one of the variants," Tressler said.


Dr. Ashwin Jathavedam, of the Englewood Health Physician Network, says to avoid false test results, never use a test that is not sealed. Each individual test should be in its own package, and check for tampering and the expiration date.

"Right now, there's a shortage," Dr. Jathavedam said. "I expect the government is going to step in, and supply of these tests will ramp up dramatically in the coming weeks, I think it's very necessary for us to navigate."

The FTC say it has encountered fake reviews of phony COVID products, including cures. They recommend researching the product name and the company across multiple websites.

Enter the words "scam, rip off, complaints" and see what other people are saying before you make a purchase.

Also, check the Food and Drug Administration list.

The Better Business Bureau's Scam Tracker also has seen a spike in COVID test complaints, mostly scammers who are after a way to eventually steal your identity.

"You could be offering your bank account information so scammers can go in and literally clean you out," New York Metro Better Business Bureau President Claire Rosenzweig said.

The BBB says price gouging for test kits is also trending.

If you suspect price gouging, take a picture of the item and the cost and report it to your local consumer affairs agency. In New York City, you can call 311.

How to spot a fake test kit


The FTC suggests following these four steps before buying and using a testing kit:

1. Only buy tests authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration. The FDA's website has a list of more than 40 authorized home tests, some of which have age restrictions. You can buy these tests online, at pharmacies and some retail stores.

2. Check the FDA's list of fraudulent COVID-19 products to ensure the test kit you're about to buy, or the company you're going to buy it from, isn't on there.

3. Look at a variety of sellers and compare credible reviews from expert sources like medical professionals or health organizations before making a purchase decision.

The FTC also advised searching on the Internet for the seller of the at-home testing kits along with words like "scam," "complaint," or "review" to catch the scammers.

"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 said.

4. If you choose to buy a testing kit online, use your credit card so you can dispute the charge if you discover it's a scam.

"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 said.

In addition, you should check if the kit you're about to buy hasn't expired.

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The importance of getting tested


While the highly transmissible Omicron variant continues to drive up COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the US, health experts say it's critical Americans continue safe practices to prevent infections.

One of these practices is getting testing regularly, even when you're not feeling sick or showing symptoms.

Supply, unfortunately, can't keep up with demand, yet with Omicron being so much more infectious, testing will become more important than ever, according to Mara Aspinall, professor of practice at the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University.

"We are at a very, very precarious moment," Aspinall told CNN last month. "Testing is our only exit strategy out of all of this."

To date, COVID-19 has killed at least 833,987 people and infected about 58.5 million in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University.

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