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Fake COVID-19 Testing Sites Take Advantage of Fear of Omicron Variant

COVID-19

Fake COVID-19 testing sites have opened in Chicago, Illinois, and other cities in the United States. These scammers take advantage of people’s fear of the Omicron variant, the shortage of at-home test kits, and, in some cities, extended wait for available testing appointments.

Complaints indicate these fly-by-night scams are charging money, not returning test results, asking for personal information like social security number and state ID, the “staff” not wearing masks or gloves. Moreover, one report detailed one location in Kentucky. A retired police officer talked to people whose COVID-19 tests were taken there and discovered that among other irregularities for a healthcare provider, he was told that:

Specimen collectors did not change their gloves between tests and could have been spreading the virus to others.

COVID-19
Courtesy of Garry Knight (Flickr CC0)

The Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois warns that if someone asks for personal information, credit card number, or asking patrons to pay a fee, the operation could be a rip-off. Illinois Governor JB Pritzker referred the problem to the state’s attorney general. “We intend to make sure those operations are no longer doing to customers and patients what they have been doing,” the governor explained.

City and state health departments offer lists of official sites where tests are free of charge, and HIPPA rules apply. However, it can be frustrating to try to find timely appointments for COVID-19 tests or one that is at an easily accessible location offered by a testing site that is not fake, especially during the increased demand for tests brought on by fear of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

A Twitter user’s post explains the situation many people encounter. On Jan. 4, 2022, a woman from Oregon wrote how incredibly hard it was to get tested. She needed one to return to work. Unfortunately, the pharmacies that offer appointments do not have any available for a week out or more.

Healthcare workers in Oregon have noticed the effects of the increased requests for COVID-19 tests, said Kevin Mealy, a spokesperson for the Oregon Nurses Association. He worries that people will forgo tests if there is a problem accessing tests, long lines, or a long wait for the tests to be processed.

COVID-19
Courtesy of Diverse Stock Photo (Flickr CC0)

While the fake pop-up testing sites offer people a solution to ward off the fear of the Omgron variant, the FBI has opened an investigation into the alleged testing site scam. James Robert Brown, the special agent in charge of the Louisville, Kentucky office, advises everyone to use only state-approved testing sites. He added people should be concerned if they see “staff” wearing painter’s coverall-type or hazardous material collecters’ uniforms rather than legitimate personal protective equipment. Moreover, he compels everyone to watch out for “exorbitant upfront cash fees. He also cautioned Medicare recipients to stay away from testing advertised as “free to Medicare beneficiaries.”

Officials ask that people file complaints about encounters with the fly-by-night COVID testing sites with their local Better Business Bureau. In addition, AARP offers a toll-free fraud helpline at 877-90-3360 to call if someone suspects they are victims.

Written by Cathy Milne-Ware

Sources:

Sacramento Bee: Fake COVID testing sites are popping up across the US, officials warn. How to spot one; by Tanasia Kenney
ABC News: Fake COVID testing sites popping up across Chicago area, Better Business Bureau warns; by Sarah Schulte
AARP: Reports of Fake Test Sites for COVID-19 Emerge Across U.S.; by Mark Taylor and Katherine Skiba

Featured and Top Image TNS Photography – Used With Permission
First Inset Image Courtesy of Garry Knight’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Second Inset Image Courtesy of Diverse Stock Photo’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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