ATLANTA — State leaders and consumer advocates are warning of scammers pretending to offer free COVID tests.
Liz Coyle, executive director of the consumer advocacy group Georgia Watch, said the scammers are preying on people who are desperate to get tested.
Access to tests hit a crisis point leading up to Christmas, with at home kits sold out nearly everywhere and hours-long lines at testing centers.
“Those are the times that scammers really love, when they know that they're going to have people who are desperate and vulnerable," Coyle explained.
She added that people should be wary of anyone offering a COVID test in exchange for money or personal information.
"I was just taking a walk last weekend and encountered a couple of men who had a table set up with some masks and some clipboards and said, 'hey, would you like a free COVID test?'" Coyle recalled.
"They didn't really look like they had a lot of credentials, and they wanted you to fill out paperwork that had your name, your address, your birthday, all of your health insurance information. I would be highly suspicious of those. People who are desperate might fall for that,” she added.
Coyle then said people might be surprised how much damage a scammer could do with that information.
"They could get healthcare with your identity," she said. "They could open up a credit card or take out some other line of credit in your name. They could get a fake ID with your identity information."
Experts add another red flag is if someone tries to charge you for a test.
“Nobody should be paying $300 or anything right now for COVID testing," said Coyle.
If you are charged for a test, you can dispute it by calling your insurance provider. You may even be able to be reimbursed for any at home test kits you purchase.
President Biden recently announced a new emergency plan to make tests free and more accessible. That plan is also expected to strengthen those reimbursement requirements.
But, implementation is still a few weeks out.
“If you're looking for an at home test kit from the federal government, you're going to have to wait until January," said Coyle.
In the meantime, it's important to be on high alert.
“Stop and ask yourself, does that sound too good to be true?" said Coyle. "If it sounds too good to be true, it very well may be.”
If you think you may have fallen for a scam, freeze your credit and report any suspicious activity to the FTC.
Consumers seeking to report price gouging and scams can go to consumer.ga.gov to file a complaint or call (404) 651-8600.