The recent spike in COVID-19 cases thanks to the omicron variant is giving rise to a new scam, the Better Business Bureau reports: phony COVID-19 test sites.
As more people than ever seek out COVID-19 tests, the BBB says phony websites and suspicious in-person testing sites are being used to collect personal and insurance information.
According to the state Department of Health and Human Services, more than 100,000 North Carolinians have sought COVID-19 tests on multiple days in January, including more than 120,000 who were tested Jan. 12.
According to the Better Business Bureau, several websites appear online after a search for COVID-19 testing in a person’s area, and a testing clinic affiliated by a local pharmacy or pop-up run by a local group is selected.
In one version of the scam, the person arrives a the testing site and is asked to complete a form with personal information and driver’s licenses and insurance cards are photographed before a swab is completed and results promised.
Unfortunately, BBB says the test is a fake and the results never arrive. Instead, it’s a ruse to get someone’s personal information.
In another version, online appointments for testing are made requiring personal, insurance and medical information, and in some cases, a small fee. But on the day the appointment is made, BBB says, the pharmacy has no record of the reservation, which was simply a way of phishing for personal information.
One victim reported to BBB’s Scam Tracker that it wasn’t until they got home that they realized they had provided “WAY too much personal information.”
The victim said it had been two weeks since the test with no results, though they were supposed to be back within 24 hours, and the scammers were still at the site conducting COVID-19 tests.
To avoid getting scammed when seeking out a COVID-19 test, the BBB advises several steps to take:
Understand COVID-19 testing options. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminds consumers that no-cost tests are available to everyone in the country at health centers and certain pharmacies. If someone insists you pay for a test, especially hundreds of dollars, it’s a scam.
Only get tested at authorized sites or health centers. Local government health department websites will show an authorized testing site in the area.
Watch out for lookalike websites. Scammers have become adept at creating sites that look just like those of well-known and trusted businesses, the BBB says. Before entering any personal information on a website, make sure it’s secure and there are no misspellings or unfamiliar names in the website address bar.
Be wary of unsolicited callers and messages. No legitimate company or health clinic will make contact without permission, the BBB says, and it’s best not to give out any personal information until confirming that it’s a legitimate source.
Read the fine print on anything that requires a signature. Question where the personal information is being kept, if it’s secure, what lab will be processing the test and if anything doesn’t seem right, find another testing facility.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services offers an online tool to help residents find nearby testing locations at covid19.ncdhhs.gov.
Derek Lacey covers environment, growth and development for the Asheville Citizen Times. Reach him at DLacey@gannett.com or 828-417-4842 and find him on Twitter @DerekAVL.
This article originally appeared on Hendersonville Times-News: BBB: New spike in COVID-19 leads to new fake testing site scams