Demand for COVID-19 tests has never been as great as it is now, as the Omicron variant spreads through California with unprecedented speed.
At-home and professional testing availability have come under intense strain, with test-seekers waiting hours in long lines, traveling great distances or paying well above the asking price for an at-home test.
Officials are warning of scammers trying to take advantage of the situation.
Here is what we know and some tips to protect yourself.
What are the scams?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week issued an alert about coronavirus testing and vaccination scams.
“Scammers are selling fake and unauthorized at-home COVID-19 test kits in exchange for your personal or medical information,” the department wrote on its website. “Make sure to purchase FDA-approved COVID-19 test kits from legitimate providers.”
The federal agency also noted schemes targeting Medicare beneficiaries and retirement communities, offering fake tests in exchange for personal details, and in some cases, drawing blood and billing federal healthcare services.
Some suspicious street-corner operations have been reported in Los Angeles as well.
What are officials doing?
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion Tuesday to address fraudulent coronavirus test sites and at-home kits as a surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant has many people scrambling to find testing appointments and equipment.
The motion calls for the county departments of health, consumer affairs and public safety to examine the risks of fraudulent tests and develop a communications and crackdown strategy in 30 days.
“In the past month, demand for COVID-19 testing in Los Angeles County and across the country has skyrocketed, drastically outpacing supply,” according to the motion, introduced by Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “Unfortunately, this has led to some taking advantage of the situation by distributing and setting up fraudulent COVID-19 tests and testing sites.”
The L.A. County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs is “in the beginning stages” of investigating reports of price gouging on tests, said Keven Chavez, a department spokesman.
Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an order prohibiting price gouging on at-home kits.
According to a statement from the California Department of Justice, the order protects Californians "by generally prohibiting the sale of at-home COVID-19 test kits at a price that exceeds, by more than 10%, the price the seller charged" on Dec. 1, 2021. Sellers who have not previously sold at-home COVID-19 test kits may not sell them for a price greater than 50% of what the seller paid, the order states.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.