With the rise in cases driven by the Omicron variant came an increase in demand for coronavirus tests – and just behind an increase in allegations of fraud and warnings to US consumers about risky coronavirus test sites.
“Throughout California, fake test sites are sprouting up to exploit families and individuals seeking Covid testing,” said Rob Bonta, California’s state attorney general. said in a statement last month.
Attorneys General in New Mexico, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, Florida, Minnesota, California, Illinois, Colorado and Washington have all shut down or sued test sites in recent weeks.
One thing that illegitimate test site operators may be looking for is patients’ personal information, such as credit card numbers, driver’s license data and CPR numbers, which can subsequently be used for identity theft or unsolicited online purchases. They can try to bill governments for tests that they claim were delivered to uninsured persons, or charge consumer fees for tests that were supposed to be free, and then provide fictitious results or none at all.
“It’s important for people to know that these sites are not licensed or regulated by a government agency, and they should ask questions before visiting a pop-up test site – or try to use a state-sponsored test site,” Kwame Raoul, Illinois State Attorney, announced in a statement in January.
The Federal Trade Commission website offers guidelines on how to avoid being scammed by fake test sites. The Commission recommends that people seeking a test get a referral from a healthcare provider instead of relying on any website they happen to come across. Another tip is to check if a website is listed on the local health department website. Consumers can also ask their local police department or sheriff’s office, who should know about all legal, locally approved test sites.
Ministry of Health and Human Services’ the Inspector General recommends be wary of any test site requesting financial or medical information to perform a free test.
A prominent case of fraud allegations involves a Chicago-based company, the Center for Covid Control, which opened about 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 laboratory, the Doctors Clinical Laboratory, following complaints from former employees and members of the public.
The Attorney General of Illinois, Mr. Raoul, wrote in a statement that complaints about the company had varied “from test results that were delayed or not received at all, to results that were given to people who never had a test, to tests that were stored incorrectly and staff that used PPE incorrectly and face masks. “
The Center for Covid Control announced in late January that all of its test sites would be closed for the time being. The company said in a brief statement that had been posted on its website that it would provide additional training to its employees on sample collection, customer service and compliance with regulatory guidelines. The statement did not directly address the allegations against the company and the website no longer operates.
Representatives of the Center for Covid Control did not respond to repeated messages seeking comment on this article.
Attorney General Keith Ellison of Minnesota brought an action against the company and the laboratory on 19 January, accusing them of “deceiving consumers”. In a press releaseEllison cited allegations by former employees that test samples were stored incorrectly and neglected for days, and that managers instructed them to falsify sample receipt dates and to lie to patients about the results, saying they were negative or inconclusive when the samples never actually had been tested.
A lawsuit filed by Washington State Attorney 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 proliferation of Covid-19 as it yielded false negative results,” said Mr. Ferguson in a statement. “These fake test centers threatened the health and safety of our society.”