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Medicare scam puts DNA testing under the microscope

DNA
(Image credit: Tony Webster via Flickr)

Medicare beneficiaries across the country are being targeted by scammers using DNA testing kits as part of a devious scheme to steal sensitive personal information.

As per a Kaiser Health News (KHN) report, older Americans are particularly likely to be approached by fraudsters offering a 'free' DNA testing that will reveal the victim's genetic risk of having a heart attack, suffering a stroke, or contracting cancer.

How the Medicare scam works

The scammers identify potential targets through email, Facebook ads, and Craiglist posts. They are also known to cold call, prey on senior citizen centers, and visit health fairs, KHN says.

Often posing as Medicare employees, the con artists use scare tactics to encourage the victim to take a DNA swab, before pressuring them into handing over their Medicare and Social Security numbers.

These details allow the fraudsters to bill Medicare for the DNA testing, which is the endgame of the scam – though identity theft is also a major risk.

According to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Health and Human Services, which first warned of the ruse in June, Medicare typically reimburses $6,000-9,000 for DNA testing – but payouts in excess of $30,000 have been reported.

Protecting yourself against Medicare DNA testing scams

Medicare scams related to DNA testing are on the rise, with the OIG telling KHN that its hotline had received up to 50 complaints a week in 2019, compared to a rate of just one or two a week at the same time last year.

Cases have been reported all over the US, with Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, California, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona and Tennessee just some of the states where the alarm has been raised.

Fortunately, protecting yourself and the older adults in your life against Medicare fraudsters is relatively straightforward – it's all about being clear on the facts and ensuring those you care about are as well. 

According to the FTC, which issued an advisory on the matter in July, the most important thing to know is that: "Medicare does not market DNA testing kits to the general public."

This means that anyone approaching you with the offer of a free DNA test claiming to be from the government is most likely to be an imposter.

The OIG offers the following by way of further advice:

  • If a genetic testing kit is mailed to you, don't accept it unless it was ordered by your physician. Refuse the delivery or return it to the sender. Keep a record of the sender's name and the date you returned the items.
  • Be suspicious of anyone who offers you free genetic testing and then requests your Medicare number. If your personal information is compromised, it may be used in other fraud schemes.
  • A physician that you know and trust should approve any requests for genetic testing.
  • Medicare beneficiaries should be cautious of unsolicited requests for their Medicare numbers. If anyone other than your physician's office requests your Medicare information, do not provide it.

Instead, senior citizens interested in DNA testing should contact their primary care provider for further, trustworthy information.

Those who suspect Medicare fraud should contact the OIG Hotline online or by calling 1-800-HHS-TIPS (note that call charges may apply).