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Central Coast counties warn of COVID-19 test site scams

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KION) Santa Cruz and San Benito counties are warning Central Coast residents to be careful when giving their information to potentially fraudulent pop-up testing sites.

Santa Cruz County says questionable pop-up sites were spotted in downtown Santa Cruz. They say another site may have also popped up in Watsonville, but there has been no communication between the health department and the company.

"To be clear, we don't know whether they're fraudulent or not. We just were alerted to these sites from residents who said they had seen the operations downtown and it seemed a little light in terms of infrastructure and staff," said Jason Hoppin, communications manager for Santa Cruz County. "They would have one or two people taking samples and then personal information from patients. When we tried to follow up with them, we could not locate them."

Last week, San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu announced his office was investigating the same testing company, Community Wellness America, Inc. for potentially working without a license.

"We checked into whether they were connected to a lab. It did seem that they were connected to a lab. But there have been reports of this particular operation showing up in communities across California under strange circumstances, and this is certainly a little bit odd that they sort of set up and then leave without contacting public health," said Hoppin.

In Hollister — police say their code enforcement officer cited another pop-up site in the old KMart parking lot for operating without a license. Police said they believe the group was not licensed to conduct testing in California and say personnel was not wearing proper PPE and samples could be cross-contaminated.

"Due to it not being a permitted site, they were asked to move along," said Hollister Police Sgt. Michael Paddy. "Some of these potential sites that could be popping up were not screened to be official sites so they could be utilizing that information for fraudulent activities."

The Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau have both warned of COVID-19 testing scams on the rise.

The FTC says fake testing sites can take people’s personal information, including Social Security numbers, credit card information and other health information — which can be used for identity theft.

Right now it's unclear if that's the case with Community Wellness America. KION did reach out to the company about the validity of their pop-up sites in Santa Cruz County but we have not heard back.

COVID testing can be hard to come by right now, but Santa Cruz County is urging people to use county-sanctioned testing sites so that people know who they're giving their personal information to.

You can find legitimate testing sites for each county here:

More testing sites around the state can be found here, and you can order your free at-home tests from the government here.

You can also report possible scams to the BBB here.

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Lisa Principi

Lisa Principi is a reporter at KION News Channel 5/46.

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