Online retail platforms have stepped away from the race to secure COVID-19 rapid antigen tests (RAT) as the shortage of testing kits continues.

Searches for rapid tests on the likes of eBay, Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace, and Amazon come up empty as the online platforms avoid attempts by resellers to charge exorbitant prices for the highly sought after tests.

On Monday the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) said it was concerned about price gouging for RATs and had seen some posts on sites charging upwards of $1,000 for a test.

“At the extreme end, we have received reports or seen media coverage of tests costing up to $500 for two tests through online marketplaces, and over $70 per test through convenience stores, service stations and independent supermarkets, which is clearly outrageous,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“There are several businesses that have repeatedly come to our notice thanks to the information provided by the public. We are asking those businesses to urgently explain the prices they are charging.”

According to the ACCC, the wholesale costs for these kits – some of which include small blacklight torches that are needed to read results – ranges from $3.95 to $11.45, yet the consumer watchdog has received over 1,800 reports of price gouging since late December.

In its discussion of reports into RAT pricing, which has been widely covered by the media, the ACCC mentions online marketplaces “removing listings where individuals are seeking to resell tests”.

But Facebook had taken action against people selling testing kits early in the pandemic, banning their sale on Marketplace or through commercial ads in an effort “to protect against exploitation of this crisis for financial gain”.

That policy was in-place from March 2020.

It took until the start of 2022 for the government to introduce its own attempt to prohibit price gouging of RATs by threatening people who sell tests for more than 20 per cent above the purchase prison with prison sentences and/or fines.

The ACCC said it has been working with law enforcement to help stop the price gouging attempts.

Many ways to find a RAT

As authorities start to crackdown on extortionary RAT prices, some people have been using the internet to source tests at high prices they are willing to pay.

Gig economy site Airtasker, which listed on the ASX last year, has been filled with posts from people who are looking to pay over $100 for a test.

On Sunday one user posted a job to have a RAT delivered to Meadowbank, NSW for $120 and the post was was quickly met with responses from would-be RAT delivery drivers ready to out to Meadowbank and collect the finders’ fee.

Speaking to the Nine papers, a woman in WA recently said she paid $80 through Airtasker for a RAT because she didn’t want to wait for a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result which, at the time, were significantly delayed.

“I have the resources to be able to pay a ridiculous amount of money for a RAT for my own peace of mind but not everyone does, or has access to that,” she said.

“Some people are stuck at home by themselves and just can’t get hold of one.”

Recognising the extent of the problem, Melbourne-based software developer Matt Hayward created the website Find a Rat which uses crowdsourced information to help people find pharmacies with tests in stock.

While crowdsourcing is an imperfect solution – there were reports that someone had listed RATs available at the Hillsong Church for $6.66 – Find a RAT can be a useful way to narrow down pharmacies before calling to double-check availability ahead of time.