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Scammers Using DNA Tests to Defraud Medicare, Steal Identities

Authorities in some states have reported a significant rise in DNA test related scams. Perpetrators trick the elderly and other vulnerable groups into handing over their insurance details.

They mainly do this by pretending to offer free DNA tests. In some instances, they offer cash to those who provide their DNA for “testing.”

Why DNA tests have become popular

DNA Test

Although genetic testing has been around since the 1980s, it has received renewed public interest in the recent past.

Ancestry sites have been advertising heavily online and on TV about the benefits of home test kits. These enable you to collect your DNA sample and send it for testing conveniently.

Among the benefits they purport to offer users are:

  • Information on predisposition to illnesses such as cancer.
  • Matches to other members whose DNA profiles are already in their databases.
  • Access to their family trees and the chance to discover their ancestors.

Although several genetic testing companies have sprung up, the three largest are; Ancestry.com, 23andMe, and Family Tree DNA.

Last year, the FDA allowed 23andMe to start selling kits that could be used to test for genetic disorders.  The idea is to pre-empt diseases such as breast cancer.

The decision didn’t go down well with some medical experts. They claim home DNA kits such as 23andMe’s are not thorough enough and benefit the company more than users.

How scammers defraud Medicare and steal identities

DNA Scammers

Some observers believe DNA test related scams intensified from Mid-2018. This was after it was announced that Medicare and Medicaid would cover genetic cancer evaluation conducted with FDA-approved tests. Since the 23andMe kit is FDA approved, the assumption is that testing with it qualifies one for this coverage.

Some scammers visit the elderly and request them for DNA for purposes of conducting cancer tests. Others call requesting to know if your family has a history of cancer. They then request your information, so that they can send you a DNA test kit. Victims may be asked for their insurance details, as well as social security number.

These stolen medical profiles could then be sold on the black market. Unscrupulous physicians can theoretically use them to request reimbursement from insurers for fake medical procedures. Scammers could also use them to acquire prescription medication, which they resell for huge profits.

There are various ways you can lose your medical identity to scammers.

They don’t always have to meet you face to face or call you.

A popular scamming technique involves sending emails to the victim, pretending to be a trusted organization.

It could look like official correspondence from your insurer or the government, asking you to update your details. The information you input on their official-looking website will then be used to steal your identity.

Consequences of identity theft

DNA test Illegal crimes

Having your identity stolen can be a terrifying experience.

If used to commit crimes, you’d have a hard time convincing the authorities you weren’t involved. This could see you being held responsible for crimes you never took part in.

In the case of Medicare, scammers could use your details to seek treatment for completely different illnesses from yours. This will update your medical profile to include new diseases and treatments.

Even if the scammers later stop using your identity, the damage could last for a long time. Some unfortunate people have ended up facing prosecution for things scammers did, such as buying controlled drugs.

How do you know you’ve been scammed?

DNA scam

There are various tell-tale signs, including:

  • Getting billed for medical services you never received.
  • Getting contacted by debt collectors about a medical debt you never incurred.
  • Unexplained medical services in your credit report.
  • Receiving a Medicare Summary Notice showing medical appointments you never made.
  • Being told that you’ve exhausted your healthcare benefit limit.
  • Receiving calls, emails, or visits from people who seem interested in your insurance or social security details.

Other than messing up your credit report, scammers could leave you extremely vulnerable. Your healthcare plan might raise your premiums due to past “regular and reckless” procedures done in your name.

Remember, scammers, don’t always have to be shadowy, organized criminals. People who live closest to you are in a better position to access your sensitive information. If a friend or family member stole your medical details, you’d be less likely to know that if a stranger did it.

Protect yourself from scammers

Protection from DNA scammers

The best way to stay safe is always to be vigilant.

You should never share sensitive information without confirming the requester’s legitimacy. To reduce chances of identity theft, don’t leave documents with your medical details in the open.

Some scammers retrieve them from trashcans, so you should shred or burn any documents you’re no longer using.

While dealing with your insurer, medical provider, banks, or any other institution, ensure they’re legitimate.

It’s not advisable to share information with people claiming to be agents. You should also regularly monitor your bills for any unusual charges. If lucky, you might arrest the situation before it gets out of hand.

The federal trade commission has a helpful article on all the steps you can take to avoid medical identity theft if you’re a victim report to the authorities and begin the long process of recovery.

If you want to get a DNA test, go with a well-known and trusted company like 23andMe, Family Tree DNA, or AncestryDNA.

Order the test yourself on their official website and send in your swab or spit sample yourself.

If you are not sure which DNA testing service to use, start with our comparison of the big 4 DNA tests.


Medical theft

Medical identity theft is a serious criminal violation. With the continued popularity of home DNA test kits, scammers are bound to keep coming up with new ideas for committing it.

The best way to avoid falling victim is always to stay vigilant, and be wary of offers from strangers. When the deal is too good to be true, then it probably is a scam.

About the Author Charles McKnight

I'm just another amateur genealogist investigating my American-Scots-Irish lineage. I built MyFamilyDNATest.com after buying all of the leading DNA tests to discover everything I could about my family history. Hopefully, this site will save you time and demystify the emerging science of DNA-based genealogy, for your family project.

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