Between the Omicron surge and the holiday season, long lines at COVID testing sites have become the norm. Increasingly, Americans are turning to another option: at-home rapid tests bought in stores or online. However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is now warning of a dangerous new scam that could put your health in jeopardy: fake at-home COVID test kits.
“Using these fake products isn’t just a waste of money, it increases your risk of unknowingly spreading COVID-19 or not getting the appropriate treatment,” says the organization. The good news? There are simple steps you can take to safeguard yourself from being scammed. Read on to find out which four things you should always do before buying a COVID test, according to experts at the FTC.
1 Make sure the test is FDA authorized.
The first tip from the FTC is perhaps the most important for your health and safety: Make sure the product you’re buying has been authorized by the FDA. To find out whether it has been, you can search the FDA’s lists of antigen diagnostic tests and molecular diagnostic tests for the name of the test you’re considering.
Though they may be hard to get your hands on, there are hundreds of approved brands. The FDA has authorized more than 420 types of COVID tests, including more than 300 diagnostic and 90 serology tests as of Nov. 15, 2021, the organization reports.
The FDA stresses that buying an approved test is crucial to your personal health—and also has broader implications. “In the context of a public health emergency involving pandemic infectious disease, it is critically important that tests are validated because false results not only can negatively impact the individual patient but also can have a broad public health impact,” says the FDA’s revised “Policy for Coronavirus Disease 2019.” “False positive results for diagnostic tests, for example, can lead to unnecessary quarantine, wasted contact tracing and testing resources, and delay in accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment for the individual. False negative results can lead to lack of appropriate treatment for the individual and further spread of the disease,” the agency warns.
2 Search the seller’s name online.
The FTC’s second recommendation can and should be applied to just about any purchase you make with an online seller you’re unfamiliar with, so do a little research before you buy. By searching the company or seller’s name plus words like “scam,” “complaint,” or “review,” you may be able to quickly determine whether past buyers have encountered a problem with their purchases, the government organization suggests. Even if you’re going through large, well-known distribution sites such as Amazon to make your purchase, this is still considered a best practice—especially when it comes to something as important as a COVID test.
3 Compare online reviews—and look for red flags.
Next, you’ll want to compare online reviews from a range of COVID test suppliers, per the FTC. “You can get a good idea about a company, product, or service from reading user reviews on various retail or shopping comparison sites,” the agency notes.
That said, it’s important to interpret reviews with a healthy dose of skepticism. “Think about the source of the review,” says the FTC, noting that many reviews can be fake—either written by the sellers themselves or bought. “Ask yourself: Where is this review coming from? Is it from an expert organization or individual customers?”
One way to identify sellers with fraudulent reviews is to sort them by date if possible. If you notice many positive reviews posted around the same date, the odds of a scam are higher.
4 Pay by credit card.
Finally, be sure to pay for your purchase by credit card—ideally one that makes disputing a charge easy. That way, you have some channel for recourse if you never receive your order, or if the product is not as advertised, says the FTC.
It’s also worth noting that the IRS counts at-home COVID tests as eligible medical expenses for tax purposes. This means they “can be paid or reimbursed under health flexible spending arrangements (health FSAs), health savings accounts (HSAs), health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs), or Archer medical savings accounts,” the agency wrote in a news release posted in Sept. 2021. Masks, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and personal protective equipment also qualify for reimbursement under these plans.
Article by Lauren Gray for Best Life©