As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and you, the community. One way I have been doing that is through this monthly column, where I provide consumer tips on public safety matters.
Although most people have come together during the COVID-19 pandemic by staying home, social distancing and wearing face coverings to limit the spread of the coronavirus, not everyone has been playing by the same rules. Scammers have come-up with new ways to prey on fear and insecurity by offering fake in-home testing kits and even phony testing sites to trick people out of their personal information and hard-earned money.
Fortunately, the capacity for COVID-19 testing in San Diego County has recently increased and there are currently 17 public testing sites operating in the County. Health plans are required cover COVID-19 tests at no cost to the enrollee, even for people who are not showing symptoms. However, the Department of Public Health recommends that you first contact your healthcare provider for a COVID-19 test.
If you are unable to get a test from your healthcare provider, the County has coordinated free diagnostic COVID-19 testing at many locations. Appointments are required and can be made up to one week in advance. You can make an appointment online through the County’s website or through calling 211.
There are also private-for-fee testing sites that are operating in the County. If you go to a testing site outside of those recommended by your health care provider or County Public Health, there is no way to ensure the tests are genuine and effective. Also, you may find you are billed for a service that should otherwise be free to you.
Be aware that scammers are selling phony in-home testing kits. As of today, there is no federally approved in-home coronavirus testing kits for the general public.
Here are tips to help identify fake testing-sites:
• Before going to any testing site, figure out if you really need to be tested. The CDC’s self-checker webpage can help you figure out if you should consult your doctor about getting tested.
• Ask your doctor if getting tested through a drive-through site is your best option.
• Only use testing sites by official providers such as hospitals or health agencies or through the County’s appointment system.
• Be on the lookout for signs of a fake testing site. Although scammers have resorted to using full-protective gear to fool victims, their testing sites are often located in strange places like parking lots or on the side of the road.
• Fake testing sites will often ask for inflated fees of upwards of $1,000 but will advertise free testing for those who are Medicare recipients. Stay away from these sites as they are likely scams.
Beware of callers trying to solicit personal identifying information:
• San Diego County does use contract tracers to inform people if they have been in contact with a person who has COVID. The contract tracers are calling people by phone and will identify themselves as County Public Health workers. They will not ask for financial information or Social Security numbers.
• Any calls purporting to be from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are scams. The CDC will not contact you, especially to sell in-home testing kits.
• Emails asking you to provide personal identifying information (including insurance information) in exchange for a coronavirus testing kit is also a common scam. Be cautious with unsolicited emails.
• Be cautious of any phone calls calming to be from Medicare or your health insurance. Always verify any numbers online and ask for identifying information from the callers.
• When in doubt, do not give out personal information by phone or through the Internet. Scammers can use your name and address for identity fraud.
• Always use official sources for any coronavirus information such as www.CDC.gov or www.SanDiegoCounty.gov.
• Remember, there is no approved coronavirus vaccine, cure or “miracle treatment.”
What to do if you are scammed:
• If you think you have been the victim of a scam, report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at (866) 720-5721 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Report coronavirus scams to the FDA’s Health Fraud Program or the Office of Criminal Investigations.
Although there are a few scammers looking to exploit a precarious situation, there are countless more first-responders and essential workers helping keep everyone safe and healthy.
District Attorney Summer Stephan has dedicated more than 29 years to serving justice and victims of crime as prosecutor.