Federal officials are warning Americans about fake COVID-19 test sites that have been reported in states around the country.
Authorities have reported suspicious sites offering fraudulent services to the public in California, Florida, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Washington and other states.
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Officials have warned that these actors are there to steal personal information, like credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and health information.
According to AARP, imposters have “regularly crashed legitimate test sites,” posing as health care workers with what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned are “legitimate-looking signs, tents, hazmat suits and realistic-looking tests.”
The consumer-protection agency said it has heard reports of sites claiming to have “free tests,” with customers being billed later or never receiving the promised tests.
The Wall Street Journal noted last week that public-health authorities often tightly regulate laboratories that analyzed COVID-19 tests, but don’t closely monitor sites conducting the tests.
The FTC instructs people to go to sites where they have been referred to by a doctor or the state or local health department’s website, check the source of a new testing site and contact their local police or sheriff’s office.
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For those who believe they already went to a fake site and shared their credit card information, the FTC advises consumers to dispute the charge and report fake COVID-19 testing sites to ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
The AARP also advises individuals to be wary of “look-alike” websites from fake testing sites and of unsolicited calls about testing sites.
“A legitimate company or health clinic will not call, text or email you without your permission. If you receive an unsolicited message, do not provide the caller or sender with personal information until you have confirmed it is a legitimate source. If you feel pressured to provide personal information, just hang up,” the organization wrote.
In a consumer alert last month, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody said good indicators to help identify those impersonating health care workers at a genuine testing site include noting their dress, if they’re interacting with test seekers within the test-site area, if they seem nervous or confused when asked questions, if they pressure test seekers for personal or financial information or if it appears health care guidelines and standards are not being followed.
The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General (OIG) is also alerting the public about additional fraud schemes on social media platforms, door-to-door visits and over text messages.
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Bad actors are offering services in exchange for Medicare information and the office advised people to make sure to purchase FDA-approved test kits from legitimate providers, not to purchase or reproduce fake proof of vaccination cards, not to share photos of those cards on social media, beware COVID-19 survey scams, be mindful of how to dispose of COVID-19 materials and watch out for scammers pretending to be contact tracers.
“If you suspect COVID-19 health care fraud, report it immediately online or call 800-HHS-TIPS (800-447-8477),” the OIG wrote.