With Omicron sweeping the nation, scammers are finding new ways to trick people out of their personal information and money.
All over the country, long lines at testing sites have been the norm, resulting in hours spent waiting to find out if you’re COVID positive. The Biden Administration came up with the idea to buy a billion at-home tests and allow people in the U.S. to start ordering them online. But scammers had ideas of their own to create fake and unauthorized at-home testing kits.
The Better Business Bureau warns about robocalls directing people to what looks like a legitimate website. But the scammers are just looking to collect credit card and other personal information.
If you plan to buy a test online, make sure it’s approved by the Federal Drug Administration. You can check to see if the test you’re considering is an approved antigen diagnostic test or molecular test before you buy. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission also recommends doing a search using the company’s name and words like “scam,” or “complaint” to see if there are previous issues. The FTC suggests paying with a credit card so that you can dispute the charge in case you never receive the product. Also know that private insurance companies are now required to cover the cost of eight at-home COVID-19 tests per month per person.
If you’d like some of the Biden Administration’s free at-home tests, after January 19th, head to COVIDTests.gov and order up to four tests per residential address. The tests will ship via the United States Postal Service usually within 7-12 days.
Another method scammers are using is by setting up complete fake testing sites. Everywhere from New Mexico to Chicago are seeing pop up test sites that often ask for payment up front and then give faulty or no results at all. In Florida, a man reported that suspicious people were actually at a legitimate testing site, asking for social security numbers and other personal information, according to WFLA. The person who reported the situation also said one man was handing out swabs, then collecting them and throwing them away.
The FTC says these bogus test sites can often look legitimate and recommends getting a referral to a testing site by your doctor or local health department. If you hear about a new testing site through social media or elsewhere, the FTC says to check your state health department’s website to see if it’s listed there, or to check in with your local police or sheriff’s office. And based on that Florida case, it may not be a bad idea to ask for credentials from anyone asking for personal information once you arrive at the testing site.
With some government agencies and private employers requiring employees to get the COVID vaccine, a new phishing scam has surfaced. Reported last fall in New York and as recently as this month in Utah and West Virginia, this scheme starts with a text or email asking people for something called a “Waiver Validation Update.” The message claims the validation (which does not exist) is required by the Centers for Disease Control and the Division of Motor Vehicles and asks you to click a link. The website in the Utah scenario then claims people must give personal information like a social security number, date of birth, driver license number and more to validate their vaccination status.
State agencies from both West Virginia and Utah put out statements reminding people they will never ask for personal information via text message or email.
It is never wise to click on links embedded in an unsolicited text or email. Scammers can use that method to install malware onto your device or computer and can then gain access to all sorts of sensitive information like passwords and bank accounts.
The FTC has a comprehensive website explaining the many scams associated with COVID-19. If you receive a suspicious message, check there for updated information. But here’s some good general advice to remember: COVID vaccines are free, be skeptical of anyone contacting you from a government agency and don’t share your personal information with just anyone.