A new scam is targeting senior citizens in Ohio. This scam involves DNA screening and genetic testing. “Scam artists are always looking for new ways to steal money or personal information,” said Governor Mike DeWine. “We want people to be careful and to know the signs of a possible scam.”
“The Ohio Department of Insurance and the Ohio Department of Aging has recently issued warnings of a new scam targeting seniors. Ohio consumers should be cautious of genetic testing firms visiting senior communities or making unsolicited phone calls and mailings related to
DNA screenings,” according to the State of Ohio Department of Insurance.
In Ohio, it has been reported that these scammers collect personal information under the guise of DNA testing that screens for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease or other diseases, telling their victims that Medicare will cover the cost of the tests. Medicare does cover the cost of some DNA testing, but it is very limited. The targets are often asked for their Medicare card number and Social Security number. “We want Ohioans to be aware and cautious as they consider DNA screening services,” said Ohio Department of Insurance Director Jillian Froment. These scammers attempt to bill Medicare for a procedure that was not ordered by a health care professional and will not be covered by Medicare. “Consumers should never share their personal information, including Social Security number or Medicare card number, with anyone who reaches out unexpectedly. If you think you may be a victim of fraud or if you suspect potentially fraudulent activity, please contact us.”
The following scenario was published in an AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) article: “Jerry Armstrong, an IBM retiree in mountain-fringed Sonora, Calif., got a phone call out of the blue. Did he have any direct relatives who had cancer, and would he like a free DNA test that would reveal his propensity for the disease? Armstrong, 76, whose mother, sister and daughter suffered from cancer, never suspected that the call could be a scam. The Californian, who was a U.S. Air Force medic in Vietnam and spent 25 years with IBM before retiring as a senior buyer, was keen to take the test. So he gave the caller, ‘Andy from Florida’, his Medicare number. A couple of weeks later, a well-packaged test kit showed up, and as directed, Armstrong swabbed the inside of his mouth twice to collect fluid samples, which he put into separate vials. But thanks to his wife, doubts began creeping in. “She oftentimes has more of a jaundiced eye than I do,” says Armstrong, who never shipped the vials back.”
According to the Federal Trade Commission, “we are getting reports that callers claiming to be from Medicare are asking people for their Medicare numbers, Social Security numbers, and other personal information…in exchange for DNA testing kits. The callers might say the test is a free way to get early diagnoses for diseases like cancer, or just that it’s a free test, so why not take it? But the truth is, Medicare does not market DNA testing kits to the general public.” It has also been reported that some are offering free gift cards, pizza and ice cream.
“Scammers and shady businesses target older adults to steal money, get personal information, or in this case, improperly access individuals’ insurance benefits,” noted Ohio Department of Aging Director Ursel McElroy. “As older adults get wiser to common scams, scammers are doing more to try to win their trust. Guard your Medicare or other insurance cards like you would a credit card. To a scammer, it is just as valuable.”
According to the Ohio Department of Insurance, “In order for the testing to be covered by Medicare, it must be medically necessary. Consumers should always confirm that their test has been ordered by their doctor, that it’s covered by their plan, and that it’s medically necessary. If you are interested in DNA screening, talk to your doctor and determine if it is right for you.”
In order to protect yourself from this type of scam, “if you or a loved one is approached by someone claiming to offer genetic testing, do not give your personal information (like your Medicare or Social Security information) to them. Theft of Medicare card numbers may be used to commit identity theft or fraud. Instead of receiving a DNA screening unsolicited from a firm not affiliated with your health care provider, talk to your doctor first and determine if the test is necessary,” according to the Ohio Department of Insurance. They also report that some seniors have received DNA testing kits in the mail without having requested one. They should not use these kits and are advised to talk to their doctor.
For those who have been targeted, or for further questions, call the Ohio Department of Insurance’s Fraud and Enforcement Hotline at 800-686-1527 or the Ohio Senior Health Insurance Information Program at 800-686-1578. To learn more about scams and other forms of elder abuse and exploitation, along with ways to prevent and report them, on the Ohio Department of Aging’s website, www.aging.ohio.gov/elderabuse.
Contributing Writer