SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As people continue to have difficulties locating rapid COVID-19 tests, experts are warning consumers to be extra vigilant when it comes to test sites.
ABC10 spoke to several people who said the internet led them to the Center for Covid Control after searching Sacramento for a test. They said after visiting the location in a mobile container office in a shopping plaza on Truxel Road, they either never got their test results or the results were delayed.
Now the California Department of Public Health is investigating their concerns.
“I just searched like, ‘local Sacramento walk-in’ because it seemed like only appointments seemed to be the only option,” Silvia Parra, of Sacramento, told ABC10.
“I think I just Googled 'Sacramento rapid COVID test' and it was like the first thing to pop up,” Nick Dunlavy, of Sacramento, said. “I was a bit in a rush because Christmas was coming up.”
The two said they were at first relieved to find a site administering free rapid tests with no appointment necessary. But days and even weeks later, they have yet to get their results and fear they’ve given up sensitive personal information.
The Center for Covid Control lists more than 275 locations across the country, promising results within 48 hours for PCR tests. Results for rapid test come back verbally in 15 minutes or by email in up to three hours.
Dunlavy said he handed over his driver's license and insurance card to get a rapid test at the Sacramento testing site. But one week later, he said he still has not gotten his results. While he received his PCR test days later, he claims he couldn’t reach anyone in the organization.
Richard Cervantes said his situation was similar in Los Angeles.
“I got on the phone and tried to call them and it was like a 240 minute wait,” Cervantes said, adding he got tested on the Monday following Christmas.
In his desperation for a test, he didn’t think to question the site and handed over personal information. He still hasn’t gotten results.
“It’s just a feeling of like, disgusting or invasion. I don’t know. It’s gross,” Cervantes said.
Cervantes and Dunlavy aren’t the only ones. The Center for Covid Control’s Instagram, @freecovidtest, is filled with complaints from patients in the comments section.
On Google Maps, the test site has a high rating, however, most of the reviews are from users who left five stars for several of the organization’s test sites across the country within the span of a week.
ABC10 went to the test site in Sacramento to get answers. Employees first said everyone received their results. However, they added the site recently experienced a system outage due to high demand, so some did not.
When ABC10 asked to be put in contact with a manager, we were directed back to the website. The phone number on the website sends callers to a voicemail box in Chicago. The website says, “We are partnered with a CDC approved & licensed laboratory which is registered with the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA).”
A form provided to ABC10 by a patient indicates a partnership with “United Diagnostic Labs.”
ABC10 ran “Center for Covid Control” and “United Diagnostic Labs” through the federal COVID-19 spending tracker, the Centers for Disease Control laboratory registry, California’s Department of Public Health COVID-19 testing site database, and the state’s laboratory licensing search engine.
The Center for Covid Control did not show up at all. United Diagnostic Labs did not appear on any lab registries, though four groups with similar names were earmarked for federal funding.
What ABC10 did track down was United Diagnostic Labs LLC, which was registered last month in Illinois. The principal was an insurance agent, who said he only provides software to the Center for Covid Control, which he believes sends test specimens out of state. He gave ABC10 a number for the founder that led to a full voicemail. Emails ABC10 sent weren’t returned.
ABC10's discovery is now leading an investigation by the California Department of Public Health. In a statement, officials say "any laboratory that tests specimens originating in California must have a California laboratory license.”
Officials could not comment further.
The Big Picture
The Better Business Bureau says consumers need to know not all testing centers are what they seem.
“It is really is an opportune situation for people to take advantage,” Lynn Conner, President of the Better Business Bureau serving the Greater Sacramento region, said. “Some of these sites that we are seeing, that people are questioning, in-person sites, they’re concerned because they’re using those sites to take private information about people. They’ll take credit card information, health information, social security numbers, and they can use that for fraudulent purposes later."
There are no allegations that the Center for Covid Control is taking credit card information, health information or social security numbers.
Last spring, federal investigators shut down walk-up test sites in Arizona, Florida, and Washington claiming they were fake and were used to scam and defraud people. They even put people in danger by not following safety protocols.
Last August, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General released a warning about potential COVID-19 related fraud. To protect yourself, Conner recommends starting with a trusted source like a doctor, hospital, or public health agency to refer you to a test site.
The state of California also has a testing site locator.
“Make sure that they’re legitimate, and that they are listed there as a legitimate site, that way you won’t get into any difficulty with it,” Conner said.
Those who reached out to ABC10 said they’ll do that next time, learning this lesson the hard way.
“It’s really sad and scary to think that you could get taken advantage of just by doing something that should be the right thing,” Dunlavy said.
If you have concerns about a testing site, you can report it to the state, the BBB, or the Federal Trade Commission.
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