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How to make sure your COVID test isn't fake

Finding an at-home COVID-19 test is tricky at the moment, and fraudulent tests are now making the rounds. Here's how to spot a fake.

COVID-19 home testing kit
Stephen Shankland/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

The beginning of 2022 has felt a lot like March 2020 in some ways -- but instead of scrambling to find a face mask, now we're all scrambling to find COVID-19 tests. With case rates soaring from the omicron variant, getting tested is of the utmost importance to slow the spread, and yet finding a test has perhaps never been more difficult and inconvenient. That's true even for PCR tests, which are typically what you'll get at a pharmacy or doctor's office. But it's even more true for at-home antigen tests, also known as rapid tests.

Amid low stock and confusing guidance around free test availability, some buyers have turned to online or secondhand sellers in order to find an at-home COVID test quickly. That leads to a second issue: counterfeit or fraudulent tests. 

This week, the US Food and Drug Administration warned people against using tests from LuSys Laboratories, also sold under the names Luscient Diagnostics, Vivera Pharmaceuticals or EagleDx. These tests likely have a "high risk of false results," the FDA believes. But that's not the only brand you need to avoid.

If you think you might be stuck with a fake test or just want to prevent future trickery, here's what you should know about avoiding fake COVID-19 tests.

Shop from trusted retailers

Your first line of protection against fake tests is choosing a trusted retailer. Chain retailers like CVS and Walgreens do not stock fraudulent products of any kind, whether face masks or home test kits.

You can also find home COVID-19 tests at local pharmacies, hardware stores, big-box stores like Target or Walmart, or medical supply stores. All of these are trustworthy places to shop, whether in-person or online.

Amazon, on the other hand, can be a bit Wild West-like at times, since there are thousands of sellers who list products there. And if you're shopping on eBay, Craigslist, social media or other online sellers, you're far more vulnerable to fraud unless you know exactly what you're looking for (and how to shop safely).

Soon, you will be able to request COVID tests on an official government website, as part of the Biden-Harris administration's pledge to deliver 500 million home tests to Americans for free. That portal won't be up and running until later in January.

Read more: How to find an at-home COVID-19 test today

Only buy FDA-authorized brands

The US Food and Drug Administration is in charge of authorizing COVID-19 tests for home use, with more than 40 home tests making the cut so far. To avoid fakes, you should only buy tests that are on the FDA's list

Some common brands that are FDA-authorized include:

  • BinaxNow
  • QuickVue
  • FlowFlex
  • iHealth
  • BD Veritor
  • InteliSwab

To make life even easier for you, the FDA also has a list of fraudulent COVID-19 products that have received warning letters for making false claims and misleading consumers. Do a quick search of your COVID test on this database to ensure that it's not on the list of fraudulent products.

Note that COVID-19 test kits do expire after several months or in some cases up to a year. Make sure that your test has not passed its expiration date.

at-home-rapid-test-kit-covid-19-2022-cnet-shortage-find002
Sarah Tew/CNET

Shop online safely

If you find yourself turning to less well-vetted online suppliers, shop safely to avoid getting scammed.

First, look up the seller on Google to see if you can find any credible information or reviews. Make sure to add the keyword "scam" or "review" to your search for more targeted results. On sites like Amazon or eBay, it's also good practice to check reviews and click on the seller's name for more info. 

If you do make a purchase, use a credit card so that you can dispute the charge if necessary. Do not enter any payment information on third-party sites. 

We don't recommend buying secondhand tests from individuals on marketplaces like Facebook or Craigslist. While reselling tests is legal, selling test kits is prohibited on Facebook, the company told CNN Business (and the same goes for Instagram, which is owned by Facebook). And in general, buying from unauthorized individuals leaves you more vulnerable to fraud -- there's no real way to vet the seller, and you can't exactly ask for a refund if things don't work out. Not to mention, unauthorized sellers' tests won't be free or eligible for FSA/HSA reimbursement, as other test kits will be starting Jan. 15, per the Biden-Harris administration's plan.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.