January 10, 2022: Buyers, beware COVID test scams and counterfeits

News outlets report that COVID-19 test shortages are fueling a brisk reseller market and price gouging for at-home test kits. Authorities in Texas and California reported unauthorized “pop-up” COVID-testing sites, and the Department of Health and Human Services warned about scammers selling fake test kits as a way to collect personal information.

Amidst the uptick in fraud, the Federal Trade Commission offered guidance about how to avoid buying fake COVID tests online:

  • Check the FDA’s list of authorized home tests.
  • Research the seller by googling its name and words like “scam,” or “complaint” and comparing online reviews.
  • Pay by credit card so that you can dispute the charge if there is a problem with the purchase.

Counterfeit coronavirus test kits seized at O'Hare International Airport in March 2020. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

In the South

A woman in Tulsa, Oklahoma was charged with selling approximately 30,000 fake oxycodone pills over the last two years. DEA agents allege that she was having pills shipped from Arizona every other week.

Eleven people are facing federal drug charges for allegedly conspiring to sell marijuana and fentanyl pills from Washington and California in Tennessee.

The police department in Memphis, Tennessee warned residents that fentanyl deaths were rising in the area, partly because of fentanyl pills disguised as oxycodone and Percocet.

Police in Cedar Park, Texas charged ten people suspected of selling fake prescription pills made with fentanyl. Over the last two years, the Austin suburb has seen nine fatal fentanyl poisonings—including Cameron Stewart, who died in March 2021 after unknowingly taking a counterfeit Valium. Investigators have also seized over 100,000 counterfeit oxycodone pills.

<a href="https://www.safemedicines.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/OK-2021-update-infosheet-SECURE.pdf">Download our July 2021 PDF</a>

Oklahoma saw a sharp increase in fake pill deaths in 2020 and 2021. Catch up on counterfeit drug news in your state on our here.

In the Midwest

Customs and Border Protection in Chicago reported a 10% increase in drug seizures in 2021, most prominently tapentadol and carisoprodol, which are controlled medicines that were being illegally imported outside the regulated drug supply chain. Seizures of these drugs across the entire U.S. increased 605% and 105%, respectively, over 2020.

In the Mountain West

Jacob Matthew Medina of Glendale, Arizona received a 13-year federal prison sentence for selling drugs under the vendor name Ghost831 on the Darknet. A search of his home in March 2019 yielded $31K, heroin, and more than 500 grams of fake pills made with fentanyl.

In the Pacific West

Authorities in Kern County, California reported that fentanyl deaths are on track to rise 84 percent this year, from 125 in 2020 to 230 in 2021. One of those victims was Heather Butterworth, who died after inhaling vapor from a quarter of a counterfeit pill in May 2021.

When police in Grants Pass, Oregon arrested four people in connection with a robbery and attempted kidnapping, they found 1,400 counterfeit pills made with fentanyl in one of the suspect’s cars.

An Alaskan man was charged for (allegedly) arranging for the delivery of the heroin, meth and 2,900 fentanyl pills seized at the Ketchikan International Airport last month.

Pills and packaging found during a search of Jacob Medina's residences in March 2019. (U.S. District Court, Arizona)