People Desperate For COVID Testing Turn To Resellers On Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Craigslist, LinkedIn, eBay

When Patrick Kennedy, a nightlife artist in New York City, was recently exposed to COVID-19, he was desperate for faster tests to not only monitor his health, but also know when he could return to work.

“It is impossible to find COVID tests due to the shortage in the city,” said Kennedy, who works hourly to pay his bills. “I want to go back to work, but I have to make sure I take the right precautions and don’t expose anyone else.”

After queuing at testing centers and visiting drugstores to buy rapid tests, to no avail, he came across an Instagram post from someone he had been to high school with who offered to sell them directly to people: $ 20 for each test, plus a $ 5 delivery charge – cheaper than some tests found in drugstores. Kennedy bought five.

He is among a growing number of people who have taken to sites such as Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Craigslist, LinkedIn and eBay for a home COVID test as they sell themselves in drugstores. across the country and the queues for testing centers can last for hours.

Kennedy’s former classmate Joey, an electrician who asked not to share his name for privacy reasons, bought a stash of 100 test kits from his friend who works at a healthcare company.

“I have to get tested for work, so it was getting really boring having to wait three hours in emergency care, and sometimes, not even getting one,” Joey told CNN, noting that he had paid. $ 45 for two tests in pharmacies. “It just wasn’t sustainable.”

After buying them in bulk – 100 tests for $ 900 (about $ 9 each) – he started offering them on Facebook and Instagram to people in his local community. He said he sold 25 overnight and 45 the next day; many of whom were foreigners and parents, who needed tests to send their children back to school after winter break. I was one of them.

A shortage of COVID tests

After a long winter break, my son was scheduled to return to kindergarten on Monday morning. A negative COVID test was required, and the only one we had came back inconclusive. As we isolated ourselves the previous days, panic swept through me: Where would we find another test in the midst of a shortage in the New York City area in time for school the next day? After seeing Joey’s post on a local parents’ Facebook group, I got one 45 minutes later without ever leaving the house. I was left with many questions: was it ethical? Is the test still real?

“I’m not looking to do a murder,” Joey later told me. “I had access to the tests – I didn’t pile them up or buy too much at a drugstore – and it’s almost criminal that people stand in line for hours in the cold, probably getting sicker. J decided to deliver them directly to Maisons. “

Facebook told CNN Business that it banned the sale of test kits on our platforms and had a system for regulators and law enforcement to report behavior they believe to be illegal or against our rules. eBay, TikTok, and Craigslist did not respond to a request for comment. It is LinkedIn’s policy to remove all posts aimed at selling articles, whether or not related to the pandemic.

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The emergence of COVID test resales comes as frustrated Americans struggle to get tested and face long lines amid increased demand following vacation trips and gatherings.

Amazon, CVS Health, and Walgreens are limiting the number of in-home COVID kits customers can purchase. Walmart recently increased the prices of some of its rapid COVID tests from $ 14 to $ 20 for two.

Experts say reselling kits in small numbers and without a significant markup is not illegal – neither is purchasing such products – but there are risks, both for buyers and sellers.

“We have received reports that unauthorized sellers are trying to profit from the pandemic by selling COVID-19 tests online,” Washington DC Attorney General Karl Racine wrote in a tweet on Tuesday. “Please be careful and only purchase tests through authorized retailers to ensure the integrity of your test.”

The Federal Trade Commission recently released tips on how to avoid buying fake COVID tests online, such as verifying buyers, paying by credit card to dispute scam fees, and purchase only kits approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The Biden administration recently promised to distribute 500 million free home tests, but it is not known when a website will launch for Americans to request these tests and by what time frame they will be shipped. A senior government official told CNN last week that he was “working on all the details. And we will have them in the coming weeks.”

The administration also said reimbursement for home tests would begin next week through insurance companies.

An opportunity for another pandemic second-hand market

In the meantime, Joey is doing some good business. But his efforts have met with mixed reactions; some people on Facebook criticized how he would make a profit by reselling tests, others came to his defense: “This kid isn’t doing any price hikes at all and he’s taking the opportunity to make things easier for people. He’s even ready to deliver – damn it! “

Eventually, Joey’s post was deleted by the group moderator. He was not told why.

Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at the Grossman School of Medicine at New York University, said the trend was also evident on his local Facebook parent group in Connecticut.

“A black market that skews the availability of tests to those who can pay is completely a reflection of the failure of government at national and state levels to provide adequate tests,” he said. “Am I surprised that a black market has started to flourish? Not at all. There are a lot of places that say you can’t come here unless you tested negative, but there are no tests. black market people, an opportunity. “

Beyond fairness concerns, buying COVID-19 tests from strangers is prone to fraud – people don’t know who they are or what they’re actually offering.

“It’s unethical to raise prices in the face of panic and scarcity, but it will continue,” Caplan said. “As for the people who buy them, what are they going to do? They can’t find any tests otherwise. I can’t fault someone for wanting to protect their child, but then you have to remember the person who sells you something on the black market might sell you something that won’t work. “

This is not the first time that a secondary market has appeared during the pandemic. In the spring of 2020, a shortage of protective equipment sparked an aftermarket. “We used some of it (at the NYU hospital), but often it would tear, tear, or not meet manufacturing standards,” Caplan said. “Sometimes black market people would take the money and never deliver it at all.”

It is also not the first time that these issues of scarcity and equity have arisen during the pandemic. Earlier last year, concierge health care provider One Medical was investigated for allowing friends and family members of its executives and wealthier clients to avoid queues to get vaccinated.

While reselling COVID-19 tests is not blatantly illegal, Jessica Rich, a former FTC official who has worked on consumer protection issues, said if there was collusive behavior between entities or organizations. individuals, or a misleading claim made in connection with sales, then perhaps certain state laws, the FTC law – which prohibits inappropriate or deceptive practices – or the Unfair, Deceptive or Abusive Acts and Practices Act (UDAAP ) could apply.

“If someone sells a small number, like a few dozen, a federal agency is not going to prosecute someone who does this on that scale, especially if they’re open about the price,” Rich said.

However, pandemic profits could potentially end badly for sellers. At the start of the pandemic, Matt and Noah Colvin became infamous for hoarding and selling hand sanitizer. Markets like Amazon and eBay have taken down their listings and warned others that they could lose their accounts. They ended up with more than 17,000 bottles and nowhere to sell them, according to the New York Times. (One of the brothers then expressed regret and donated supplies to charity.)

A Craigslist salesperson, who asked to remain anonymous, said he started reselling tests after standing in line for hours, missing work and paying a premium for PCR results without insurance, in hopes of get some of their money back. “I feel a little shabby inflating the price, but COVID messed up my job and I have to pay rent,” the listing reads. “I had to call over 50 pharmacies on the way from DC to find them.” The salesperson told CNN Business he “would personally pay double not to process lines and get results quickly if he was available.”

Some, like Joey, have been kicked out of Facebook groups. Russell Schwartz and his wife Katherine Quirk-Schwartz, a nurse, run a South Florida Facebook page that connects people with resources related to COVID-19. In recent weeks, they have shifted part of the group’s focus of helping people find vaccines to helping members locate home testing kits. Schwartz said he kicked people out of the group for trying to sell tests.

“Our biggest fear is that individuals will pray for our group because of the size, population and demographics of older users,” Quirk-Schwartz said.

Additional reporting by Jennifer Korn of CNN Business

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