How to Spot a Fake At-Home COVID Test Kit

With the surge in omicron cases, getting an at-home COVID test kit is becoming increasingly challenging. And in the midst of the shortage, the Federal Trade Commission is warning against fake COVID tests being marketed to consumers. “It’s not a surprise that, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, fake and unauthorized at-home testing kits are popping up online as opportunistic scammers take advantage of the spike in demand,” the FTC said in a statement released on January 4.

In the U.S. at-home COVID tests, most of which are rapid antigen tests, are authorized for use by the FDA only after the agency confirms they meet conditions for safety and effectiveness. (You can see the full list of approved tests on the FDA website.) Fake, or unauthorized, tests have experts concerned since there’s no way to know if they’ve met this standards—and that means the potential for these to misdiagnose COVID cases. “Using these fake products isn’t just a waste of money, it increases your risk of unknowingly spreading COVID-19 or not getting the appropriate treatment,” the FTC said.  

To avoid buying a fake, the FTC recommends first cross referencing your COVID test kit with the FDA’s list of authorized COVID test kits, which include both rapid antigen tests and molecular-based PCR tests, and include popular brands like the Abbott BinaxNOW test and Quidel QuickVue tests. If your test isn’t on this list, it’s technically not authorized for use in the United States and may not deliver accurate results. 

Keep in mind, just because a test is unauthorized in the the U.S., doesn’t mean it’s a true “fake.” Health agencies in different countries have authorized different tests, and don’t always agree on their accuracy. The best way to make sure you’re getting an accurate test that will be recognized by U.S.-based health agencies is to go by the FDA’s list. 

They also recommend doing your due diligence on retailers selling COVID test kits if you’re not buying from a reputable pharmacy or chain store. “Search online for the website, company, or seller’s name plus words like ‘scam,’ ‘complaint,’ or ‘review,’” the FTC advises. Even if nothing suspicious comes up, you can still read through reviews to find out more about people’s experiences. Finally, the FTC recommends paying for at-home tests by credit card so that in the event you do buy a fake test, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company. 

Even when you are certain you’ve purchased an authorized test, remember that a negative test result is not a guarantee that you’re COVID-free—especially in the midst of the omicron surge. As SELF previously reported, emerging research suggests that rapid antigen tests might not be great at detecting omicron infections, or at least at detecting them quickly enough. A small study of 30 people working in high exposure risk settings found that it took rapid tests (including those made by Abbott and Quidel) an average of three days longer than a PCR test to detect the virus. 

This doesn’t mean you should stop testing—just think of at-home COVID test kits as one tool in your arsenal against omicron (along with getting boosted and wearing a mask). “Early data suggests that antigen tests do detect the omicron variant but may have reduced sensitivity,” according to the FDA. “In following the FDA’s long-standing rapid test recommendations, if a person tests negative with an antigen test but is suspected of having COVID-19, such as experiencing symptoms or have a high likelihood of infection due to exposure, follow-up molecular testing is important for determining a COVID-19 infection.”