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COVID-19 cases continue to rise dramatically, leading to brutally long lines at testing sites and empty shelves at stores where at-home rapid test kits were once in stock.
Now an additional problem has emerged: The Federal Trade Commission is warning about fraudulent testing kits being sold online to desperate customers.
"It's not a surprise that, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, fake and unauthorized at-home testing kits are popping up online as opportunistic scammers take advantage of the spike in demand," the FTC said in a news release this week.
Coronavirus self-tests — also known as home tests or over-the-counter tests — are one of several risk-reduction measures that can protect people by reducing the chances of spreading coronavirus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These tests can be taken at home or anywhere, regardless of vaccination status or symptoms, and are easy to use for quick results, the CDC says.
However, testing kits are in short supply and getting more expensive, forcing some people to search online or anywhere to find them.
But buyers should be wary of scammers selling fake kits.
How to spot a fake test kit
The FTC suggests following these four steps before buying and using a testing kit:
1. Only buy tests authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA's website has a list of more than 40 authorized home tests, some of which have age restrictions. You can buy these tests online, at pharmacies and some retail stores.
2. Check the FDA's list of fraudulent COVID-19 products to ensure the test kit you're about to buy, or the company you're going to buy it from, isn't on there.
3. Look at a variety of sellers and compare credible reviews from expert sources like medical professionals or health organizations before making a purchase decision.
The FTC also advised searching on the Internet for the seller of the at-home testing kits along with words like "scam," "complaint," or "review" to catch the scammers.
"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," the FTC news release said.
4. If you choose to buy a testing kit online, use your credit card so you can dispute the charge if you discover it's a scam.
"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," the FTC said.
In addition, you should check if the kit you're about to buy hasn't expired.
The importance of getting tested
While the highly transmissible omicron variant continues to drive up COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the U.S., health experts say it's critical Americans continue safe practices to prevent infections.
One of these practices is getting testing regularly, even when you're not feeling sick or showing symptoms.
Supply, unfortunately, can't keep up with demand, yet with omicron being so much more infectious, testing will become more important than ever, according to Mara Aspinall, professor of practice at the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University.
"We are at a very, very precarious moment," Aspinall told CNN last month. "Testing is our only exit strategy out of all of this."
To date, COVID-19 has killed at least 833,987 people and infected about 58.5 million in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University.