DNA swab

By Sheron Patrick

It’s that time of year again; time for Alaskans to revisit their health insurance options, check out health fairs and workshops to see which plans are the right fit for the family. Many of those health fairs may include offers for DNA testing.

It is enticing. A few swabs inside the cheek can unfold mysteries of the past and a glimpse into the future. Those tiny bits of tissue, containing an individual’s unique DNA equation, can reveal ancestors, history, current relatives, even possible future health risks.

Unfortunately, not all those offers are completely above board. Because of that, the US Department of Health and Human Services has issued a fraud alert for a new genetic testing scam. It has already hit here in Alaska, but it’s not too late to be on the alert.

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.

And this is happening in Alaska where the Better Business Bureau has received reports of DNA kit salespeople showing up at senior health fairs and going door to door in our communities. 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 the 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. If Medicare denies the claim, the beneficiary could be responsible for the entire cost of the test, which could be in the thousands of dollars.

There are legitimate companies that perform DNA testing. While this report 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. That’s a wise practice with any company.

According to Jesse Leimgruber, cofounder of Bloom, “In the US 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 your information safe.

What should people do and beware of with this information?

• 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.

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

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 several resources to help you avoid being scammed at bbb.org

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