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With the increase in cases fueled by the Omicron variant, a rise in demand for coronavirus testing — and right behind it, a rise in accusations of fraud and warnings to American consumers about dodgy coronavirus testing locations.
“Throughout California, bogus testing sites are sprouting up to exploit families and individuals seeking Covid tests,” Rob Bonta, California Attorney General, said in a press release last month.
Attorneys general in New Mexico, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, Florida, Minnesota, California, Illinois, Colorado and Washington have all closed or sued testing sites over the past few weeks.
One thing that operators of illegitimate testing sites may seek is patients’ personal information, such as credit card numbers, driver’s license data, and social security numbers, which can later be used to identity theft or unsolicited online purchases. They may try to charge governments for tests they believe were provided to uninsured people, or charge consumers for tests that were supposed to be provided for free and then provide fabricated results or none at all.
“It’s important for people to know that these sites are not authorized or regulated by any government agency, and they should ask questions before visiting a pop-up testing site – or attempting to use a testing site sponsored by the State”, Kwame Raoul, the Attorney General of Illinois, advised in a statement in January.
The Federal Trade Commission website offers guidelines on how to avoid being tricked by fake test sites. The commission recommends that people who want to get tested should be referred by a healthcare provider, rather than trusting any site they come across. Another tip is to check if a site is listed on the local health department website. Consumers can also ask their local police department or sheriff’s office, which should know of any legitimate, locally approved testing sites.
The Ministry of Health and Social Services the Inspector General recommends be wary of any test site that asks for financial or medical information to take a free test.
A prominent case of fraud charges involves a Chicago-based company, Center for Covid Control, which has opened some 300 pop-up locations across the country and collected up to 10,000 samples per day. The FBI and other federal agencies, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, are investigating the company and its partner lab, Doctors Clinical Laboratory, following complaints from former employees and members of the public.
Illinois Attorney General Raoul written in a statement that complaints about the company ranged “from test results being delayed or not received at all, to results being provided to people who have never been tested, to tests being stored incorrectly and to staff incorrectly using PPE and face masks.”
The Center for Covid Control announced in late January that all of its testing sites would be closed until further notice. The company said in a brief statement posted on its website that it will provide additional training to its employees on sample collection, customer service and compliance with regulatory guidelines. The statement does not directly address the charges against the company, and the website no longer functions.
Representatives for the Center for Covid Control did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment for this article.
Attorney General Keith Ellison of Minnesota lodged a complaint against the company and the laboratory on January 19, accusing them of “deceiving consumers”. In a press releaseMr Ellison cited accusations from former employees that test samples had been improperly stored and neglected for days, and that officials had asked them to falsify sample receipt dates and lie to patients at the office. about the results, saying they were negative or inconclusive when the samples had in fact never been tested.
A lawsuit filed by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson accuses the company of fraudulently billing the federal government more than $124 million to test allegedly uninsured patients, many of whom had health insurance.
“The Center for Covid Control contributed to the spread of Covid-19 when it provided false negative results,” Ferguson said in a statement. “These bogus testing centers were threatening the health and safety of our communities.”