Fake COVID-19 Testing Sites Are Scamming Vulnerable Communities Across the US

Paul Middendorf, a Houston resident, was congested when he woke up this month. He decided to have COVID-19 tested. He was pleased to discover that a COVID-testing pop-up siteThe test was conducted in Houston’s East Montrose neighbourhood. A worker went down the line sharing a QR code for people to scan and fill out their information, including their driver’s license, phone number, address, email, date of birth, and health insurance.

He noticed some aspects of the testing site that were unusual as he completed the form. The testing was disorganized and there wasn’t much signage. He was not given a vial by workers to store his nasal swab unlike other places.

“I was just holding it walking up to the crowd and asked, ‘What am I supposed to do with this swab, there’s no tube to put it in,’ and he’s like, ‘Oh, you just put it back in the wrapper, and then you put it back in the baggie, and then you put it in this bucket,’” Middendorf said. “That seemed really weird. Also, that’s not how you do a PCR.”

Omicron cases have seen a huge increase in demand for COVID-19 testing. A depleting supply of rapid tests and decreasing appointment availability at testing centers have created a vacuum that has allowed for a new wave of Omicron cases. unapproved testing sites.

Pop-up testing sites not authorized by the government are popping up in cities across the country. Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, San Antonio, San FranciscoThis and many other places, including warnings from officials that scammers may attempt to charge fees and obtain personal data such as social insurance numbers. fraudulent operations.

“There has been an increase in people wanting to be tested that contributed to long wait times and may have also contributed to unscrupulous operators taking advantage of the situation,” said Cleo Garcia, spokesperson for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District (SAMHD). She stated that supply chain issues are the greatest obstacle for licensed testing providers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General has released a fraud alert on Jan. 4 warning that personal information collected through COVID-19-related scams like illegitimate testing “can be used to fraudulently bill federal health care programs and commit medical identity theft.”

Middendorf attended the site run by the Center for COVID Control. It is an organization that has come under scrutinyIn the last few days, numerous complaints were received to the Better Business Bureau and city health departments about failed results and questionable reporting practices.

Scott Packard, the spokesperson of the Houston Health Department, told Prism the agency works with several agencies to offer free testing sites in the city. The agency also inquires about safety protocols, lab certification, logistics, and other aspects of testing before listing them on HHD-affiliated.

“Center for COVID Control is not an HHD partner agency,” Packard confirmed.

Douglas Loveday, the spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said that the Center for COVID Control is not reporting to DSHS, a violation of the governor’s orders. Other state health agencies like the Oregon Health AuthorityThe company has not provided any test results. The Center for Covid Control, which is located in Texas, Oregon, and Illinois, is currently under investigation by the Departments of Justice. The company announced that it had a “one-week pause on all operations” due to “increased scrutiny by the media into the operations of [its] collection sites.”

The Center for COVID Control has not responded to repeated phone calls or emails for comment. Its website claims that they offer testing at over 300 locations. The website is now password protected as of January 14,

COVID-19 testing has become increasingly difficult to access and fraudulent sites have appeared in many neighborhoods. However, the spread of fraudulent sites may have disproportionately affected low-income, Black, Indigenous, or communities of color. BIPOC have faced a disparity in testing availabilityThroughout the pandemic, there were fewer test sites, longer lines, fewer staff, and fewer people. Houston Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee stated that some of the illegitimate sites are being targeted. low-income and immigrant communities. SAMHD received complaints from six zip code areas, five of which are represented by low-income neighborhoods. Mass distribution of incorrect test results can pose a serious privacy and public health risk.

“If you’re testing to get a negative result to see your grandparents in an old folks home, you could very well be spreading COVID because they’re giving you a fraudulent test result,” said Middendorf.

Matthew Rankin of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health spoke out to say that there are a variety of steps one can take in order to verify the legitimacy of a testing facility.

  1. Ask the testing site’s affiliation and verify that the facility is co-located with it. Legitimate testing sites will work with the facility where they are established. The facility should be able to verify this.
  2. You will see logos of institutions on the paperwork or signage at the testing site. Call these institutions to confirm that the testing site is legally affiliated with them.
  3. To check if the site has been approved for testing, visit your local health department website.

Rankin said that COVID-19 testing websites may ask for your insurance, but should not charge you for testing. Your social security number should not be requested by testing sites.

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