BBB column: Be on the watch for Medicare DNA scams

BBB column: Be on the watch for Medicare DNA scams

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A few swabs inside the cheek can unfold mysteries of the pasts and a glimpse into the future. Those tiny bits of tissue, with an individual’s DNA equation, can reveal ancestors, history, current relatives, even possible future health risks. But like Pandora’s box, the key to that information, the cheek swab, may also lead to trouble. Because of that, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has issued a fraud alert on a new genetic testing scam.

Jeremy Johnson

Scammers are popping up across the country, offering Medicare beneficiaries cheek swabs for genetic testing through telemarketing calls, booths at public events, health fairs and door-to-door visits. They claim this is at no cost to them and attempt to obtain their Medicare information for identity theft or fraudulent billing purposes.

Unfortunately, this is happening right here in our community. BBB has received reports of this happening here in eastern Idaho, both at doorsteps and at senior health fairs. One report said a company showed up to a health fair, started signing people up and swabbing their cheeks.

They asked for Medicare and supplemental insurance information, as well as personal contact information. After entering information into a smartphone, they asked for several signatures but without a real opportunity for the customer to read what they were signing. Then the technician performed a mouth swab of about 10 times on each side and placed the specimen in a test tube in a plastic bag with a reference number.

There are legitimate companies that perform DNA testing. While this may have been one of those, there are some questions you should ask. If they are a privately owned business, you’ll want to know what they will do with your information and how they will use it. This doesn’t just apply to this situation either, it can apply to any business you are working with. According to Jesse Leimgruber, cofounder of Bloom, “In the U.S. alone, more than 10,000 companies are pooling and selling your personal data.” As such, the importance of protecting, limiting and safekeeping this resource can be neglected. The part most data collectors are interested in is how they can use that data to maximize their profits – not to spend money and resources on keeping it safe.

What should people do and beware of with this information?

n Be suspicious of anyone who requests your Medicare number. If anyone other than your physician’s office requests your Medicare information, do not provide it. If your personal information is compromised, it may be used in other fraud schemes.

n Remember again these are private companies, and it’s imperative to know how they are handling your personal information and protecting it.

n Use caution when agreeing to genetic testing. A physician that you know and trust should approve any requests for genetic testing.

Better Business Bureau has a number of resources to help you avoid being scammed at b-b-b-dot-org.

Jeremy Johnson is the eastern Idaho marketplace manager for Better Business Bureau, serving the Northwest and Pacific. Contact her by emailing

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