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As Coronavirus Spreads, So Do Fake, Unapproved, and Ineffective Test Kits

LegitScript has been proactively monitoring the online space in response to the outbreak of the virus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, and has identified an increasing trend in the marketing of coronavirus-related products that present an elevated risk to consumers, payment service providers, and e-commerce platforms. In particular, the severe shortage of diagnostic kits to test for COVID-19 may be prompting fraudsters to flood the online market with products that are potentially unapproved, ineffective, or counterfeit.

Any products marketed directly to consumers as self-testing kits for the virus that causes COVID-19 should raise a red flag. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recently announced they had seized suspected counterfeit test kits at the Los Angeles International Airport arriving from the United Kingdom. "Authorized diagnostic testing for COVID-19 is conducted in verified state and local public health laboratories across the United States," an agency press release stated. "The American public should be aware of bogus home testing kits for sale either online or in informal direct to consumer settings."

In our monitoring of the online space, LegitScript has identified numerous websites selling COVID-19 home test kits. The price of these products varies wildly, with kits priced as low as $19.99 and as high as $1,899. Furthermore, many test kits are promoted as rapid response tests that offer results in minutes. These test kits are being sold on merchant websites as well as major e-commerce platforms.

For example, the website below is selling a COVID-19 rapid test kit for $39.99 with claims to provide results in three minutes with 95.39% accuracy. According to labs that are performing the testing, results take about 24 hours to complete, and full processing of a specimen can take up to four days.

Furthermore, the test marketed on the website requires a blood sample when legitimate tests almost exclusively require a nasal swab.

Another seller, below, has priced COVID-19 rapid self-test kits at $499.99 for a box of 25 tests. This seller states that the test kits have "been registered with the China SFDA and approved in EU as IVD product." Consumers should be wary of these types of claims because, although many companies are working on self-testing kits, they currently are not widely available to the public, and there may be local regulations that make them unapproved. The product below also requires a blood sample and promises results in 10 minutes. We note that home-testing kits coming to market still require mailing the sample to a CLIA-certified laboratory partner for processing and results, which can take days.

A listing on an online marketplace, featured below, indicated that the rapid test being marketed provides results in 10 minutes. The listing's title included "FDA CE Certificate," suggesting that the test has been approved for use in the US and the European Union. This listing has since been flagged and removed.

In addition to test kits that may be counterfeit, unapproved, or ineffective at testing for COVID-19, LegitScript notes that merchants such as these pose an elevated risk for nondelivery schemes, meaning they charge for a product that is never delivered. Even merchants selling otherwise legitimate products in response to the pandemic should be scrutinized for potential price gouging or problematic claims that their products can treat, cure, or prevent the disease.

Consumers, payments service providers, and e-commerce platforms should remain vigilant regarding test kits and other pandemic-related products or services as fraudsters continue to look for new ways to profit off this crisis.

LegitScript is a leader in keeping the internet and payment ecosystems safe and transparent. We continue to monitor the space for illicit products that can deceive or harm consumers in the midst of this pandemic. Sign up for our newsletter to get the latest news and information regarding risks around the pandemic and other high-risk trends in the online and payments spaces.

Have you seen a website or a seller on an e-commerce platform engaged in scams or other problematic behavior related to the coronavirus outbreak? Let us know by reporting the website.


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