Phony DNA test scam preys on Medicare beneficiaries

Created date

August 21st, 2019
A sign features the words Scam Alert

DNA test kits are enormously popular. Who isn’t curious about their origins and their ancestors? On another front, home DNA testing kits can now predict future risk of some serious diseases like certain types of cancer. 

But before you sign up for a DNA test, beware! A number of federal agencies and state attorneys general have recently issued warnings of a sickening new scam that starts with an offer of a DNA test. What makes this scam so ruthless is that it specifically targets Americans who rely on Medicare and Medicaid—hardly a population who can afford to be ripped off. 

It goes something like this: Scammers contact their intended victims by phone or in many cases, in person at a community health fair. They start by misrepresenting themselves as being affiliated with Medicare or Medicaid. 

Next, they collect a person’s vital information, such as his or her Social Security number or Medicare information. They tell their victims that Medicare will pay for a DNA test so it is completely free for the patient. In some cases, people have reported being offered $20 by the scammers to take the DNA test. 

The test itself seems harmless. It’s just a simple swabbing of the cheek to collect a saliva sample. It’s so easy, simple, and affordable, it’s hard for people to decline the offer.

Once they have a person’s vital information, they have everything they need to commit identity theft and/or insurance fraud. It could be used by an imposter to obtain free medical care using their victim’s insurance information. 

It’s unclear what they are doing with the genetic samples they collect. Some authorities investigating the scam say they have found bags of discarded tests that never made it to any lab. They believe the DNA samples were merely a ruse to get vital information. 

However, it’s not unthinkable that scammers might find a way to use the DNA samples they fraudulently collect for illicit purposes.

What you can do 

Here are some tips on how to protect yourself against this DNA testing scam:

• Be suspicious of anyone offering free DNA tests and cancer screenings. Only a doctor can determine if such testing is medically necessary for you. Be especially suspicious of anyone offering to pay you to take a DNA test; it is against the law for Medicare or Medicaid beneficiaries to receive payment in exchange for undergoing medical tests. 

• Never share your Medicare or Medicaid insurance number (or your Social Security number) with anyone who offers free medical products or medical services. 

• Monitor your credit reports for unauthorized activity and your Medicare statements for suspicious charges, especially if you have shared your personal medical information with anyone offering a free DNA test. 

• Call 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227) or 1-800-HHS-TIPS if you think you have been the victim of Medicare fraud.