COVID-related schemes on the rise include exchanging fake or unauthorized at-home tests in exchange for personal or medical information; other scammers often engaged in price gouging, or selling tests at unreasonably high prices.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an alert about scammers offering “COVID-19 tests, HHS grants, and Medicare prescription cards in exchange for personal details, including Medicare information.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on Dec. 30 (pdf) banning retailers from raising the price of at-home testing kits by more than 10 percent of the kit’s regular retail price; they also can’t charge a price that’s over 50 percent higher than what they paid to the supplier.
Taking their cue from both state and federal officials, both LA City Attorney Mike Feuer and LA County’s Board of Supervisors acted this week to address COVID-related scams.
Feuer vowed to crack down on price gouging in a press conference on Jan. 13.
“There are those who would prey on the fears of people in the midst of a pandemic like this and take advantage of them by jacking up the prices, for example, of a COVID at-home test,” Feuer said.
The city attorney said he wanted to act now to prevent people from having to deal with the aftermath of COVID-related scams.
“It’s an issue that we need to nip in the bud at its inception,” he said. “And we can do that if you as a consumer are vigilant about what the going rate needs to be.”
Feuer said that the price of at-home test kits should range from $10 to $20, but some are being sold by price gougers for as much as $70.
Feuer said those who think they’re being confronted with incidents of price gouging should avoid buying the product and report it to Feuer’s office, and those who purchased such tests to keep their receipts and any other evidence to report to his office.
Scammers could face up to $1,000 in fines, or six months in jail, for each instance of price gouging. There are no current pending fines against any businesses for price gouging, but several preliminary investigations are underway, Feuer said.
Real COVID-19 test providers should only ask for one’s name, address, and possibly a health insurance card, Feuer said, urging people to be wary of sites that ask for more personal information.
Feuer also offered some advice to distinguish between real test kits approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and fake test kits.
Real test kits should say “FDA emergency-use authorized” and not “FDA approved,” since the FDA has not officially approved any test kit beyond emergency use authorization, Feuer said.
Earlier this week, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion to address fraudulent COVID testing sites and kits.
“In the past month, demand for COVID-19 testing in Los Angeles County and across the country has skyrocketed, drastically outpacing supply,” the motion read. “Unfortunately, this has led to some taking advantage of the situation by distributing and setting up fraudulent COVID-19 tests and testing sites.”
Supervisor Kathryn Barger introduced the motion on Jan. 11, calling for the county’s health department, consumer affairs department, and public safety department to survey the fraudulent tests and develop a crackdown strategy within 30 days.
Both the Board of Supervisors and Feuer urged Angelenos to pick up tests at one of LA County’s 13 official testing sites at COVID19.LACounty.gov/testing/.
Angelenos can report instances of price gouging to Feuer’s office by calling 213-978-8070 or visiting LACityAttorney.org/COVID-19, or report to LA County by visiting StopPriceGouging.dcba.LACounty.gov.