Scammers are defrauding elderly Americans by luring them to take pricey DNA tests that they say are covered by Medicare, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned Tuesday.
Elderly people are popular targets for con artists because they tend to have good credit, more savings than younger people, and they may be hard of hearing or have poor vision.
Collectively this makes them both vulnerable and worthwhile marks for scammers who impersonate family members and sell bogus products.
The latest con trend is to pretend to sell American seniors DNA tests like 23andMe, telling them that the tests are covered by insurance through Medicare (though they are not) – and scammers walk off with elderly people’s money and information.
It isn’t clear how many people have been scammed by the the DNA test kit rouse.
But it’s become a significant enough problem to prompt the FTC to caution Americans against this novel fraud technique.
About 80 percent of Americans over 65 have at least one chronic disease – and many live in fear of developing these ailments or cancer.
Sales people have been dropping by elderly people’s homes or calling them, claiming that a genetic test is necessary to determine whether someone has or is at risk of developing a disease.
According to the FTC’s warning, these con artists will often call from a number that comes up as a Washington, DC, area code (202) or displays ‘government’ on caller ID.
This lends legitimacy to scammers impersonations of government employees, as they like and say they regularly conduct these tests and are calling to offer the government-funded service.
But you can’t believe everything you see on caller ID.
Medicare, the publicly subsidized insurer for people over 65, doesn’t sell or otherwise offer the tests for the general public.
In fact, genetic testing has limited usefulness for diagnosing the kinds of chronic illnesses that elderly people might worry about having.
When an elderly mark agrees to have the test done, they may be asked to provide their insurance and payment information, a driver’s license, social security number or other identifying information.
After taking this information, they might swab your cheek as well.
‘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?’ the FTC writes.
‘This is yet another government impostor scam.
‘Government agencies will rarely, if ever, call you. If they do, it will be after they send you a letter – or to return a call you made to them.’
Phone scams, as many of the DNA testing cons reported to the FTC have been, cost Americans $9.5 billion in 2017, according to Market Watch.
In all likelihood, there’s no DNA test at all, and this sample will never be used – but it could, and that would give these scammers access to your genetic info, too.
But more likely, the alarming but alluring offer of the DNA test is just a ploy to get money from you.
‘Never give anyone who calls or approaches you out of the blue information like your Medicare, bank account, credit card or Social Security number,’ advised the FTC.
Although elderly people concerned about their health are prime targets, it could happen to anyone at any age.
‘Scammers can use your information, steal your identity, get credit in your name and take your money.’