As both the availability of, and interest in COVID-19 testing increases, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and the Division of Consumer Affairs (DCA) are warning consumers about false or misleading claims related to testing. There has also been a rise in the report of testing-related scams.
DCA confirmed there are two active investigations against a Morris County health club and a Passaic County dentist for making false COVID-19 treatment claims.
“We’re urging consumers to do their homework, understand the types of tests being marketed, and recognize what those tests can and cannot do, so they don’t fall victim to false promises and outright scams,” Grewal said.
“As public access to COVID-19 and COVID-19 antibody testing increases, so do opportunities for unscrupulous individuals to make money by exploiting people’s confusion and fears,” said Grewal.
Consumers are encouraged to know the difference between the different types of COVID-19 tests. Diagnostic testing is intended to determine if you currently have the disease. An antibody test is intended to determine if a person possesses COVID-19 antibodies, which indicates past exposure to the virus. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that antibody tests cannot be used for diagnosis of infection.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a detailed guide to testing for COVID-19.
Beware of Scams
Various scams related to COVID-19 tests have been reported throughout the U.S. These include the selling of tests not FDA-approved, and thus may not provide accurate results; or door-to-door efforts to perform fake tests, for a fee, or offer a free test in exchange for a person’s personal and health insurance information.
“Consumers should be wary of anyone advertising tests for sales via email, on social media, or over the phone,” said Paul R. Rodríguez, Acting Director of DCA. “With testing now widely available in New Jersey pharmacies and healthcare practitioners’ offices, finding a trustworthy testing site is easier than ever.”
There are also reports of the sending of text messages that inform the recipient that they have come into contact with someone who has tested positive COVID-19. The scammers provide links that will encourage the sharing of personal information.
Rodríguez stated that legitimate contact tracers will never ask for social security numbers, bank account or credit card information, or insurance numbers over the phone.
To learn more about the contact tracing process, go to the state’s Department of Health’s Contact Tracing for COVID-19 webpage.
The DCA recently sent cease-and-desist letters to a Morris County health club and a Passaic County dentist, warning against the against making false or misleading claims in the sale of antibody tests for COVID-19. Business names have not been released, as these and other similar investigations remain ongoing.
In the case of the Morris County health club, the division reported that it received information that the club had made misrepresentations in advertising COVID-19 antibody testing available to club members via a health and wellness center affiliated with the club.
The health club’s advertising stated that antibody tests can determine “if someone has already contracted the virus and, thus, has developed the antibodies to prevent contracting it again.” According to DCA, this is misleading because a person may have contracted the virus but not yet developed antibodies that would result in a positive antibody test. It has also not been established whether the presence of COVID-19 antibodies conveys immunity, and, if so, for how long.
The Passaic County dentist is reported to have made misrepresentations in advertising antibody tests for sale to other dental and medical practitioners. The misrepresentations include stating that medical practitioners can determine that a patient, upon testing positive for a particular antibody, is “now clear, they have the antibody, they’re safe.”
The statement appears misleading because it has not been established whether the presence of COVID-19 antibodies conveys immunity. It is also unclear if someone with antibodies would not be able to spread the virus.
“Misinformation of this nature has the potential to provide false security to individuals and contribute, in the aggregate, to widespread public harm, and also violates New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act,” the division stated in the letters.