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California Attorney General Rob Bonta warns of fake COVID-19 testing sites statewide

California Attorney General Rob Bonta warned Californians this week to be on alert for illegitimate or fake COVID-19 testing locations and websites.

As coronavirus cases surged to new peaks this winter, COVID-19 test sites have been overwhelmed, leaving many facing hours-long wait times, delayed test results or no access to tests at all.

At-home tests, too, have been hard to come by. Amid the chaos, scammers posing as legitimate COVID-19 testing companies and clinics are exploiting the increased demand for testing, Bonta said, by running operations that aim to collect patients’ personal information or charge for tests but never provide results.

It is unclear how many such sites are currently in operation or if there are any active in Marin, Mendocino, Lake or Sonoma counties.

Bonta’s office Tuesday would not comment on “ongoing investigations or complaints that have been filed.” However, “we can confirm that we have seen a rise in scams related to fake COVID-19 testing sites recently and are monitoring the situation closely,” a Department of Justice spokesperson said, noting also that this is a nationwide issue.

The Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office, at least, has not received any complaints of fake sites thus far. However, there have been reports and official investigations of a few unauthorized, unsafe or mismanaged sites in Sonoma, Marin and San Francisco counties in the past several months.

“We’ve told our local cities and towns that if something pops up that doesn’t seem right to let us know right away,” says Laine Hendricks, public information officer for Marin County. She notes no new fake or illegitimate testing sites have been reported to county officials this year.

While there are, of course, many legitimate testing options available, below are a few recommendations from Bonta’s office, officials and public health experts to avoid falling victim to sham or disreputable test sites:

  • To find a verified testing location, use the California Department of Public Health’s test site search tool. Each county also maintains a list of local testing sites and appointment information (which you can find at covid19.ca.gov/get-local-information/#County-websites or by searching online for your county’s COVID-19 or public health department website). You can also visit major pharmacies or go through your healthcare provider.
  • If you visit a testing site that seems suspicious, it likely is. Heed red flags, such as improper safety precautions or medical protocols. You can also ask the test provider for their CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) license, which they are required to have.
  • Beware of unsolicited phone calls about COVID-19 testing or “lookalike” testing websites. Do not share personal information unless you are sure the caller is legitimate, and double-check any websites you visit are secure and have the correct URL (look for subtle misspellings or unusual domain suffixes).

The Attorney General’s Office is encouraging those who think they have been scammed to report any potentially fake COVID-19 testing operations online at oag.ca.gov/report.

Remember, also, that as of Jan. 15, private health insurance providers must cover the costs of eight at-home COVID tests per person per month. (Whether the cost is covered up front or via reimbursement depends on the insurer.) Each household is also entitled to four free tests now via the USPS which can be ordered at covidtests.gov/ or by calling 1-800-232-0233 (TTY 1-888-720-7489).

Have an issue that you want investigated? Want to share a great story tip? Contact “In Your Corner” reporter Marisa Endicott at 707-521-5470 or marisa.endicott@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @InYourCornerTPD and Facebook @InYourCornerTPD.

Marisa Endicott

“In Your Corner” Columnist, The Press Democrat

Born and raised in Northern California, I'm dedicated to getting to know all its facets and helping track down the answers to tough questions. I want to use my experience as a journalist and an investigator to shine a light on local systems, policies and practices so residents have the information they need to advocate for the changes they want to see. I’m passionate about centering the many voices in the communities I cover, and I want readers to guide my work.

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