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FBI warns of fraudulent coronavirus antibody tests

A Covid-19 antibodies test in progress at Farragut Medical and Travel Care in Washington, April 10, 2020. The FBI issued a warning about scammers who advertise fraudulent Covid-19 antibody tests, the latest in a series of alerts from the government about fraudulent exploitation of the coronavirus pandemic.
A Covid-19 antibodies test in progress at Farragut Medical and Travel Care in Washington, April 10, 2020. The FBI issued a warning about scammers who advertise fraudulent Covid-19 antibody tests, the latest in a series of alerts from the government about fraudulent exploitation of the coronavirus pandemic. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

The FBI has issued a warning about scammers who advertise fraudulent COVID-19 antibody tests as way to obtain personal information that can be used for identity theft or medical insurance fraud.

The warning, issued Friday, is the latest in a series of alerts from the federal government about fraudulent exploitation of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Scammers are advertising the fake or unapproved tests — which could provide false results — online, through social media or email, or in person or over the phone, the FBI said. They could claim that the tests were approved by the Food and Drug Administration, as well as advertise free COVID-19 antibody tests or provide incentives for testing.

The bureau recommends that those looking to take an antibody test — which is used to determine whether a person has had COVID-19 — consult a list of tests and testing companies that the FDA has approved. These tests have been evaluated in a study performed at the National Institutes of Health’s cancer institute or by another FDA designated government agency.

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People should also consult with their primary care physician before taking any COVID-19 antibody test at home, the FBI says. It also warned against sharing personal or health information with anyone who is not a “known and trusted medical professional,” as well as checking medical bills for suspicious claims and reporting those claims to health insurance providers.

Among the methods fraudulent marketers use to obtain crucial personal information is calling people and telling them that they’re working with the government or that government officials are requiring them to take a COVID-19 antibody test. They sometimes also offer to perform the test for cash.

The goal is to seek personal data, like a person’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, Medicare and health insurance information. This can later be used for identity theft or medical insurance fraud.

The fraudulent tests, the authorities say, are just another way for scammers to capitalize on people’s fear and uncertainty from the coronavirus pandemic.

Last Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission warned of scammers pretending to be contact tracers. In early June, the Internal Revenue Service alerted people about fraud surrounding government stimulus coronavirus payments.

Back in April, the FBI issued a similar warning related to COVID-19 testing and scammers looking to sell false coronavirus cures, treatments and vaccines. Federal officials also warned last week about fake cards that were being sold that would supposedly exempt people from wearing face masks.

c.2020 The New York Times Company

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