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How to spot — and avoid — fake COVID-19 tests

What to know before you buy at-home test kits online.

With the increased demand for at-home COVID-19 tests, there's also an increasing possibility that those tests you just bought might actually be fake, the Federal Trade Commission warned in a new alert this week.

Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration flagged in November that fake COVID-19 tests and "cures" are circulating online. "You will risk unknowingly spreading COVID-19 or not getting treated appropriately if you use an unauthorized test," the FDA said in a recent statement.

To help make sure you don't end up with fraudulent COVID-19 tests, the FTC also shared some tried-and-true tips for when you're shopping online. Here's what you need to know before you buy at-home test kits.

Only buy tests that are authorized by the FDA.

When selecting an at-home COVID-19 test kit to purchase, the first thing to do is make sure it's an FDA-authorized test, the FTC explained.

The FDA keeps a list of authorized antigen test products here and a list of authorized molecular test products here. There's also a list of known fakes here.

Before you buy, check those lists to make sure the test you've selected has received an emergency use authorization from the FDA — and that it's not on the FDA's list of fraudulent products.

You should only buy from trusted sellers.

You can find FDA-authorized tests on generally trusted sites, such as those for major pharmacies and stores. But, in the search for at-home rapid tests, you might find yourself browsing sites you're not as familiar with. If you're using a site like Amazon, pay attention to who is selling the items.

That's why the FTC recommends that you “check out a seller before you buy, especially if you’re buying from a site you don’t know.”

To do so, you should perform an online search for the seller's name along with words like "scam" or "complaint," the FTC says. That might turn up some red flags about a particular seller.

Seek out online reviews about the seller and product.

In doing your research, you should also search online for customer reviews about a particular product or seller. It's best to compare responses from multiple sites because it's not always easy to tell where an online review is coming from.

"You can get a good idea about a company, product, or service from reading user reviews on various retail or shopping comparison sites," the FTC says. "Think about the source of the review. Ask yourself: Where is this review coming from? Is it from an expert organization or individual customers?"

Use a credit card to purchase your tests.

Finally, when you're ready to purchase, use a credit card to buy your at-home COVID-19 tests. That way, if all else fails and you do end up with a fraudulent test or you simply never receive a product you paid for, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company.