Securing Our Communities: DNA Testing Scams

Each week, the NTIC Cyber Center highlights a different social engineering scam impacting individuals and communities within the National Capital Region. We encourage everyone to share this information with friends, colleagues, and loved ones to help reduce their risk of becoming a victim of financial fraud and identity theft.

DNA testing scams, also known as DNA screening scams or genetic testing scams, are a type of social engineering scheme in which the perpetrator masquerades as a medical health professional or health sales representative concealing his or her true intentions to fraudulently bill healthcare service providers or elicit personally identifiable information (PII) via DNA testing services. DNA testing is a tool used by the healthcare industry to learn about individuals' genetic predisposition to potential health risks such as cancer and heart disease or to trace individuals’ ethnic heritage. This scheme can affect anyone, but scammers mainly target senior citizens and low-income individuals. Scammers lure victims by promising gifts, prizes, or money and take their PII to commit financial fraud, usually by billing Medicare and Medicaid or using the PII in identity fraud schemes. Scammers target victims in multiple ways including in person, via telemarketing calls and even public health fairs/events. A variation of the scheme involves sending a DNA (saliva/cheek swab) testing kit in the mail and requiring the recipient to provide a Medicare/Medicaid number to process the test.

Scammers go to great lengths to seem legitimate. Fraudsters in New Jersey, for example, posed as a healthcare non-profit organization in order to gain access to senior living communities. The “non-profit” lured the elderly to presentations on genetic testing with the promise of free ice cream. The scammers used fear mongering tactics to convince the elderly the genetic tests were necessary to combat health risks such as cancer, stroke, heart attacks, and suicide. The non-profit solicited healthcare providers on Craigslist to authorize the tests and in the process defrauded Medicare out of more than $430,000.

With the rise in popularity, commercialization and accessibility of genetic testing, the NTIC Cyber Center encourages you to share the following tips with your friends and family on how to identify these schemes:

  • Verify with your healthcare provider beforehand to see if they cover genetic screenings. Not checking beforehand may result in a staggeringly high bill.

  • Do not provide your Medicare number or PII to anyone other than verified healthcare providers and trusted partners. Keeping personal details to yourself and trusted partners can help reduce your risk of identity theft.

  • Remember that Medicare only pays for DNA and genetic screening in rare cases when they are medically necessary.

  • Be skeptical of anyone offering free genetic screenings especially in exchange for money, prizes and gifts. Such offers could violate federal-antikickback laws meant to stop government program abuse.

  • Check your medical bill for unfamiliar charges as scammers may have ordered unnecessary tests and screenings on your behalf.

  • Be wary of vague science and methodology behind genetic screening propositions as these are telltale signs of potential fraud. Ask for provable and detailed scientific documentation.

  • Stick with reputable DNA testing companies. Reputable companies are more likely to safeguard your data.

Be sure to report all DNA testing scam attempts to your local police department, the US Federal Trade Commission, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or your own health care service provider.

The NTIC is governed by a privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties protection policy to promote conduct that complies with applicable federal, state, and local laws. The NTIC does not seek or retain any information about individuals or organizations solely on the basis of their religious, political or social views or activities; their participation in a particular noncriminal organization or lawful event; or their race, ethnicities, citizenships, places of origin, ages, disabilities, genders, or sexual orientations. No information is gathered or collected by the NTIC in violation of federal or state laws or regulations.