Watch out for online COVID test scammers eager to prey on Omicron fears.

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Nearly every night on the news lately, there’s a segment showing a long line — maybe even hundreds of cars — of people waiting to get tested for COVID at community testing sites. Grocery and drug stores everywhere are out of tests due to the Omicron variant surge. Not surprisingly, many people want to bypass the line and order COVID-19 at-home tests online.

Beginning January 19, you can order up to four free COVID tests per household from the government and be reimbursed by your insurance. But what if you use your four free tests and worry that you might have COVID or were exposed to someone who tested positive? Or, what if the government-sponsored COVID tests aren’t available when you need them?

When that happens, it may be tempting to turn to online sellers hawking COVID-19 tests. Don’t be too eager to stick just any swab up your nose, though. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), fake COVID tests sold online are popping up faster than a cranky person peeling out of a too-long line at a COVID testing site.

Here are the FTC’s recommendations for making sure you don’t get ripped off when all you’re trying to do is stay healthy and keep others safe, too.

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Run from unauthorized tests

Before purchasing a COVID test online, make sure the test is authorized by the U.S Food & Drug Administration (FDA). You can check for FDA-authorized antigen and molecular COVID diagnostic tests on the FDA site. If you don’t see the COVID test an online seller is offering, keep shopping. The test being sold could be a scam.

Find out: Watch Out for These COVID-19 Vaccine Survey Scams

Beware of unfamiliar websites

Your online search for COVID tests may lead you to websites for companies you’ve not heard of until now. Even if you’re in a hurry to get your hands on at-home tests, don’t rush into purchasing online COVID tests. The FTC recommends checking out the seller first.

Start with a quick search for online reviews of any COVID tests and the company selling them. In your search terms, type in “scam,” “review,” “fake” or “complaint.” If others had a bad experience or never received their COVID tests after payment, there’s a good chance those complaints and reviews will show up in your search results.

If nothing negative comes up, check out the website, looking for signs the offer could be a scam or the company selling COVID tests isn’t legitimate. Red flags include:

  • No customer service number to speak with an agent
  • No physical company location/address posted on the website
  • Poor design, typos and grammatical or spelling errors
  • Fake government websites. An official government website will have “.gov” at the end of the domain address. If you don’t see “.gov,” it’s not a government site.

Find out: Could You Be a Target for a COVID-19 Extortion Scam

Pay only with a credit card

If you purchase an online COVID test that’s authorized by the FDA, don’t pay with a debit card. Charge the test to your credit card. That way, if you’re charged for tests you never receive or the seller makes unauthorized charges to the card, you can dispute the charge with the credit card company to have it removed.

Find out: 6 Signs of a COVID-19 Tracing Scam

What if I suspect a COVID test sold online is a scam?

If you get nervous after doing your research because an online COVID test seems like a scam, report the seller to the FTC. That way, the agency can be aware of the possible scam, investigate the seller and notify law enforcement if the online COVID tests are fraudulent.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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