PhotoDNA testing is a hot product. It can be kinda fun and interesting to find out where our ancestors started out. But some consumers may be in for a surprise if they aren’t careful about which genetic service they choose to use.

That surprise comes in the form of a warning sent out by government health officials about a new hoax involving genetic tests. This is not your run-of-the-mill genetic ancestry-leaning test. Rather, it uses Medicare subscribers as its prey and the lure of preemptive disease assessment as the bait.

The way this scam is usually carried out is innocent on its face: You’re at a local health fair and happen upon a booth where someone offers you a gift card or maybe a coupon for free ice cream. Of course, that gift card or ice cream comes with a prized attachment -- a free health screening that includes genetic testing. 

That’s where things start to snowball.

“The representative falsely promises that Medicare will pay for the test, and you simply need to provide a cheek swab, your ID, and Medicare information to receive your test results,” warns the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “They may even ask for your doctor’s name, implying that they will send your results to your doctor.”

The gotcha

At that point, the fraudster has your Medicare credentials, as well as personal health plan information which they might be able to monetize elsewhere. If Medicare declines the claim, the consumer could be on the hook for the entire amount of the test -- as much as $10,000. 

“What’s going on here is the same pattern of activity that has occurred throughout the health care system: a great majority of law-abiding actors and a few that seek out opportunities to game the system of government reimbursement,” writes Stats’ Bob Thomas.

“If you can get a saliva swab and a Medicare number from an unsuspecting senior and falsify a doctor’s order (or find a shady doctor to write one), there’s an easy four-figure sum to be had. And if you’re willing to repeat that dodge a few hundred or a few thousand times -- you get the idea.”

Making sure you don’t take the bait

Of course, this, like most scams, is preventable. The Department of Health says there are three important precautions: 

  1. Genetic testing at the level the scammers are working on should only be requested by a physician that you have a doctor-patient relationship with and no one else. 

  2. If a genetic testing kit shows up in your mailbox, don’t open it unless your physician tells you to. If your physician says they didn’t request it, refuse the delivery or return it to the sender. When you send it back, make sure you keep a note of who sent it to you and the date you sent the kit back. The post office will usually offer a receipt that has some of that information, which will come in handy if you need to verify you returned the kit.

  3. All Medicare beneficiaries should be wary of any person or company that asks you for your Medicare registration ID. If it’s someone other than your doctor, keep your Medicare info to yourself.

Because crooks always have their ear to the ground in an attempt to keep tabs on what authorities are doing, this scam may take on new and different angles as it progresses. If you suspect Medicare fraud or just need some peace of mind that you’re doing the right thing, contact the HHS OIG Hotline.

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