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No Social Security or Credit Card Required: How to Spot Fake COVID-19 Testing Centers


High demand and low supply have opened the door for scammers looking to steal identities and money. Fake tests abound in states with high Latino populations like California and New York.

By Michelle Andrews/


NEW YORK, NY.- In recent months, COVID-19 testing sites in tents and trucks have multiplied on the streets like weeds.

As the omicron variant gains traction in the United States, the demand for testing has skyrocketed and lines are turning every corner.

In addition to hospitals and health centers, New York City offers walk-in testing at mobile sites.

Private testing site operators have also proliferated in this and other cities.

Many of them offer legitimate services.


high demand and tight supply have also opened the door to fraudsters, with officials in some states warning of dubious operators

who could put people's personal data, health or wallets at risk.


You can now order free COVID-19 tests on this Government website: they will arrive at your home by mail


“These conditions change so quickly,” said Gigi Gronvall, a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security who leads the COVID-19 Testing Toolkit that provides guidance to employers and others.

"It's not a surprise that they opened the door to consumer scams and fraudulent testing."

Consumers looking for tests, whether it's a rapid antigen test that provides results in less than an hour, or a PCR test, which typically takes longer but is more accurate, may not realize that not all testing sites are the same.

And unfortunately, it's not always easy to tell the good from the bad.

They hope that the distribution of rapid COVID-19 tests at home will reduce infections

Jan. 17, 202201:45

At testing sites in the Chicago area, consumers have encountered employees without masks and gloves.

Or they have been asked to provide a Social Security or credit card number before taking the test, said Dr. Eve Bloomgarden, co-founder of the advocacy group Illinois Medical Professionals Active Collaborative Team.

These sites put consumers at risk of identity theft and inaccurate test results, as well as financial loss if they are charged for tests, which are generally free to consumers.

"The guidance must come from the state and be regulated at the public health level," he added.

"Finding this out should not rest with the public."

[The cost of masks and tests for COVID-19 exacerbates the gap of the pandemic among those most in need]

Illinois Governor JB Pritizker called some operations "unreliable" and a "huge problem," and referred the matter to Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul for investigation.

On a Philadelphia street, workers at a COVID-testing store falsely claimed they were working with the federal agency FEMA, James Garrow, director of communications for the city's Department of Public Health, said in an emailed response.

FEMA told the department that it was not funding any temporary testing centers in the city.

“Currently, there are no quick signals to help people know if a site is legitimate or not,” Garrow said.

“That is why we are investigating whether it is possible to provide a sign to show that a site is legitimate or recognized by the health department.”

It's hard to walk down a street in some parts of Manhattan without bumping into at least one or two of these pop-up sites.

Before the holidays, people stood in long lines in the cold waiting their turn to have the swab.

Some trucks and tents are clearly marked with company names, while others operate from what appear to be rental vans.

And they proliferate throughout the country.

They are ubiquitous in Los Angeles.

In some places, testing sites run by the same company are clustered within walking distance of each other.

A Crestview Clinical Laboratory tent on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles in December 2021. Chaseedaw Giles/KHN

Some test operators focus their operations on areas with high health coverage, rather than marginal neighborhoods with fewer people with insurance.

For example, a testing site map from LabQ, a company that offers mobile COVID testing in the New York City area, shows dozens of locations in Manhattan but only a handful in the Bronx.

"I don't care why people are getting tested," said Denis Nash, a professor of epidemiology at the City University of New York.

“If they do it to be safer at a party, great.

But I do care if access is not equitable.”

[How to spot fake COVID-19 tests?]

One of the system's weaknesses is that while state and city health departments closely monitor the labs that process COVID-19 tests, they generally do not regulate the operators of the site that administers them.

In Philadelphia, right now the only licensing requirement for coronavirus testing sites is that the lab they use be licensed by the state health department showing that it meets federal standards under the law known as the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments ( CLIA), Garrow explained.

CLIA sets laboratory testing standards for accuracy, reliability, and timeliness.

In Maryland, sites must have a CLIA “waiver” from the federal government that allows them to test, said Andy Owen, deputy director of media relations for the Maryland Department of Health.

In December 2020, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh issued a press release warning consumers about unauthorized COVID-19 testing operations that could collect personally identifiable information from individuals and use it for theft of identity.

COVID-19 testing tents in New York City.

Elisabeth Rosenthal/KHN

Since then, the department has not received any complaints about the pop-up testing sites, according to Aleithea Warmack, deputy director of communications for the attorney general's office.

In general, a testing site operator seeking payment from a health plan for administering a coronavirus test must have a national provider identifier, which comes from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Kristine Grow said. , spokeswoman for AHIP, a trade group for health plans

While it's routine for a test operator to ask for consumers' health insurance information, it's not routine to ask for credit card numbers.

[CDC Updates Its Mask Recommendations: Cloth Masks Ineffective, N95s Offer “Greater Protection”]

Consumers generally do not have to pay out of pocket for a COVID-19 test because it is covered by insurance or the federal government.

However, some people are charged if the test is not ordered by their doctor, is an urgent service, or is performed by an out-of-network provider, where

"we continue to see price increases over the course of the public health emergency,

" Grow said.

One way to identify a legitimate testing operator is to check lists maintained by states and cities of the names of operators they work with or fund.

But many legitimate test operators aren't in official databases, Bloomgarden said.

Some independent test site operators are "highly rated," said Scott Becker, executive director of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

Becker went to a drive-through testing site in his neighborhood in Montgomery County, Maryland.

The test operator told you which lab they used and you received the results with the name of the lab.

"They're not all bad," Becker said.

"It's just hard for an ordinary citizen to understand."

As the demand for COVID-19 tests grows, even legitimate test operators may not meet their commitments.

Theo Servedio stood in line with a handful of people at the sliding door of a mobile LabQ testing van near Columbia University in New York City in December.

The 19-year-old sophomore was planning to go to a party, but with coronavirus cases on the rise, he wanted to get tested first.

A sign at the registration desk promised a 24-hour turnaround time for PCR tests.

Theo Servedio, a sophomore at Columbia University, visits a LabQ mobile testing van in New York City in December 2021. He was planning to attend a party, but with the rise in covid cases, he decided to take the plunge. proof.

Michelle Andrews for KHN

“Both are free, but the turnaround time for tests at the school has been 48 to 72 hours in the past,” Servedio said.

He had his results in 24 hours.

But others were not so lucky.

According to a warning letter sent to LabQ in December by New York Attorney General Letitia James, some consumers waited more than 96 hours for their COVID-19 test results, despite the company's promise of a longer time. 48 hour response.

LabQ was one of the few testing companies to receive the warnings in late December and early January.

LabQ did not respond to a request for comment.

KHN's Chaseedaw Giles contributed to this report.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is the newsroom of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), which produces in-depth journalism on health issues.

Along with Policy Analysis and Surveys, KHN is one of the three main programs of KFF.

KFF is a nonprofit organization that provides health information to the nation.

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2022-01-19

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