Officials in Kentucky are warning citizens to be aware after multiple fake COVID-19 testing sites popped up in the Louisville area this week.
As health care workers, government officials, first responders and private citizens in the Louisville metro area work for the betterment of public health during the global COVID-19 pandemic, there are those seeking to take advantage of fear and uncertainty surrounding the novel coronavirus by scamming unsuspecting citizens.
WAVE reported scammers are duping would-be patients who have shown symptoms or are afraid they might have been exposed to the virus by performing fake COVID-19 tests and charging them exorbitant fees.
A woman named Shannon Wilson fell for the scam, telling WAVE she does not want to see other people make the same mistake.
Wilson said it all began for her when she started having trouble breathing two weeks ago. She described to WAVE how she followed the recommended steps from health experts, and was told to self-isolate.
Eventually, a colleague told her about a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site at a church in the city’s Shelby Park neighborhood.
She described the scene at the Sojourn Church Midtown, where one of the fake sites popped up.
“[Scammers] were in their full get-up; they had white uniforms on, masks on, they even gave me a mask because they didn’t want me to cough on them,” she said.
She added that “she was asked a series of questions by women who were dressed as nurses,” WAVE reported.
Wilson said she paid $40 for a phone call with a person she thought was a doctor. The person then recommended she get a COVID-19 test for $200 more.
She said at that at the church parking lot, the scammers performed a fake test by swabbing her throat, and not her nasal cavity — which is how current tests are administered.
“I feel violated,” Wilson said. “You just have to be leery because these people are truly demonic.”
Wilson eventually obtained a genuine COVID-19 test and is awaiting results.
Jack Brannen, director of communications for the Sojourn Collective, said in a statement the church agreed to allow the fraudsters to use its parking lot for three days, but asked them to leave after two days due to concerns over their behavior.
Brannen said his church was contacted by an unnamed group about using its property, and agreed to open up its parking lot in order to help make testing available for community members.
“As testing continued through Tuesday, we developed some concerns and further questions about the organization, chiefly their compliance with city and state requirements,” Brannen said in a statement on the Sojourn Church website.
“Although it wasn’t our event, we felt uncomfortable allowing them to continue to use our parking lot. Ultimately, we asked them not to return for testing on Wednesday.”
WDRB reported some scammers are after more than just cash; they are also potentially collecting personal information and might use it to pursue false Medicare and Medicaid claims.
Louisville Metro Council President David James said he confronted scammers at one of the fake locations near downtown Louisville, WDRB reported
“It’s a scam,” he told the outlet. “They would test somebody and use the same gloves they used on the person before. They get your $240 dollars plus they can turn in fake Medicaid claims.”
James said the only drive-thru testing location currently available in the city is located at the University of Louisville, and is by appointment only.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear took to Twitter to warn of COVID-19 scams in his state, and asked citizens to report any unusual activity:
Scammers are taking advantage of #COVID19. From unemployment scams, to fake testing, it’s important we report these incidents to the @Kyoag‘s office. Call 1-888-432-9257 or report online https://t.co/5jZKTR7rAV
— Governor Andy Beshear (@GovAndyBeshear) April 2, 2020
The Louisville Metro Police Department also offered information on how to avoid falling victim to scammers during the coronavirus pandemic:
— LMPD (@LMPD) April 1, 2020
State health officials say that people who have been exposed to the coronavirus or are showing symptoms should only obtain testing through their doctor until an official announcement is made that more testing locations are available.
“You shouldn’t be handing over your hard-earned, precious money to get pop-up testing anywhere,” Kentucky Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack told WDRB.
Concerns of fraud surrounding the COVID-19 crisis are not limited to Kentucky.
The Department of Justice is asking citizens nationwide to be aware that criminals might attempt to profit from the crisis.
“The Department of Justice is remaining vigilant in detecting, investigating, and prosecuting wrongdoing related to the crisis,” the DOJ wrote on its website.
Attorney General William Barr told U.S. Attorneys in a memo, “The pandemic is dangerous enough without wrongdoers seeking to profit from public panic and this sort of conduct cannot be tolerated.”
The department further warned the public not to fall for scammers who might be selling fake cures for the coronavirus online.
If you suspect fraud relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, you are asked by the DOJ to contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline by telephone at 866-720-5721, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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