How can I tell if a COVID test is fake?

key takeaways

  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning people about recalled or fake home COVID-19 tests.
  • In addition to the fake tests, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently recalled 200,000 unauthorized test kits.
  • The federal government will begin mailing COVID-19 test kits to Americans in late January.

Now that COVID-19 tests are a hot commodity, people are trying to make sure they have enough on hand. If you manage to get some COVID tests at home, you may breathe a sigh of relief. However, you should remain vigilant.

There are reports of fraudulent tests in the market. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently recalled approximately 200,000 unauthorized test kits.

Fortunately, the federal government will soon mail a free authorized home rapid antigen test to anyone who needs it. However, the help came a little late in the game. Throughout the pandemic, people have been scrambling to stock up on tests in brick-and-mortar and online storefronts.

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recalled test kits

Recently, the FDA recalled 200,000 boxes of the Flowflex SARS-CoV-2 antigen rapid test (self-test), manufactured by ACON Laboratories. This test does not have an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA. The recalled test is in a blue box, while the approved version is in a white box.

More than 2 million Ellume COVID-19 home tests recalled

However, ACON has another test – the Flowflex COVID-19 Antigen Home Test – Do FDA authorized.

The recall also affects Ellume’s home tests, which are authorized but show too many false positives.

In addition to the recalled test kits, fake test kits have also started circulating. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning consumers that fake tests are not only a waste of money but also dangerous. Unreliable test results can mislead COVID-19 patients and allow the virus to continue to spread.

Fake tests and sites

Local and state public health departments have also been distributing home testing kits. While they may seem like a safe bet, some of these locations have also fallen prey to unauthorized testing. At least one county in New York found it was distributing the kits recalled by the FDA, specifically two Orange County testing sites that distributed the unapproved tests.

Dr. Gigi Gronvall, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health who is using the school’s COVID-19 testing kit, told VigorTip that sellers of fake tests “are looking to make a quick buck.”

Gronvall was “not at all surprised” by the emergence of fraudulent tests and websites, and said one reason we’re in this situation is because of our “market-based approach to testing” throughout the pandemic.

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Before the Delta variant, there were plenty of rapid tests available, but with the arrival of a COVID vaccine, demand for them has dwindled. The country struggles when new variants like the Omicron emerge as manufacturers cut back on production. Now, test makers are ramping up production again, but lagging behind demand.

As demand for testing has grown, sites offering rapid testing have begun popping up on the streets of cities across the country. While most sites are valid and run by health organizations, fraudulent sites have also emerged.

For example, fake sites in Chicago ask people to provide credit card information or Social Security numbers. Providing this sensitive information, which is not needed for a true COVID test, leaves people vulnerable to identity theft. In Philadelphia, a fake testing site claims it is working for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is not true.

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Sign test is real

The best sign that a test is reliable is that it is FDA-authorized, Robert Amler, MD, MBA, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Practice at New York Medical College, told VigorTip.

Amler, who is also the former chief medical officer of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, said, “Many test descriptions indicate an FDA emergency use authorization (EUA), but some may not.”

Is the test FDA authorized?

Check the website if you are not sure if the test is authorized by the FDA. The agency has a list of antigen tests that have received EUAs.

Your first step should be to double-check the product’s packaging. It should describe the type of test and whether it has any approvals or endorsements. The packaging should also include instructions for using the test.

It’s also important to note where to buy the test. To avoid getting a test that isn’t the real deal, Gronvall advises “if you’re going to buy them, go to a reliable retailer.”

How to order a free COVID-19 test

Save on our test supplies

Testing remains a critical part of containing the pandemic.While the most accurate COVID tests are those that detect very small amounts of the COVID-19 virus (polymerase chain reaction [PCR] or nucleic acid amplification test [NAAT]) they are not always the easiest and fastest option.

In some cases, it makes sense to use a home test, a rapid antigen test. They detect viral proteins called antigens that can show if you are currently infected with COVID-19. You usually get results within half an hour without leaving your home.

“Remember, any positive test is a positive result, with rare exceptions,” Amler said, but as a reminder, they added that the accuracy of any COVID-19 test depends on “such as when the specimen was collected and whether the specimen was collected or not. Collect and dispose of properly.”

In most cases, Amler said, “Once you test positive, there is no further value or need for testing. In fact, the health department is asking you to refrain from further testing to avoid exhausting the shortage of test kits.”

Bottom line? Once you’ve got enough legal home COVID-19 tests for your household, think carefully about using them — and try not to stockpile more than you really need.

what does this mean to you

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has warned consumers about recalled or falsified tests for COVID-19. Fraudulent testing sites have also popped up in some cities.

Here are some resources to make sure the tests you get are legitimate:

  • The FTC has information here on how to avoid buying fake COVID tests.
  • The FDA has a list of authorized antigen and PCR tests here.
  • You can now order 4 COVID-19 antigen test kits to be mailed to your home by the USPS. Orders will begin shipping in late January.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may have updated information as you read this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, visit our Coronavirus news page.

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