How Does the Free Cancer Screening Scam Work?
In this scam, people receive a phone call from someone who offers them a free DNA test to check their cancer risk. It sounds easy. They will mail you a DNA kit, similar to the ones you might get from Ancestry or 23andMe. You provide them with your saliva or a cheek swab, along with your 11-digit Medicare number and other identifying information, and mail the package back to them. DO NOT DO IT!!
In some places, they are doing more than calling people. Instead, the scammers drive around and offer senior citizens $20 in exchange for their DNA sample and Medicare information. In other cases, they have even gone to senior centers or assisted living facilities and offered to swab people's cheeks for the genetic material necessary for the cancer screenings. Again, they ask for the client's Medicare ID and other personal information or, if the residents are not yet on Medicare, they agree to accept any type of medical insurance information.
Once the scammers have what they want, the patients never receive the results of the "test," which is actually never performed. What they really wanted was not your DNA sample. They wanted your Medicare or insurance information.
Do not put yourself at risk. Everyone should educate themselves about common scams. A good way to do that is to read the AARP book "Outsmarting the Scam Artists: How to Protect Yourself from the Most Clever Cons." (Ad) Thieves change the way they operate often, so it is up to you to learn when to be suspicious and how to protect yourself.
Why Do Scammers Want Your Medicare ID Number?
Your insurance information, particularly your Medicare number, is valuable to scammers. It can be used to create some of the $60 billion in fraudulent claims which Medicare receives every year. Other insurance information can be used to steal medical care or defraud insurance companies, too.
These scammers start by charging Medicare anywhere from $6,000 to $30,000 for these unnecessary, fake DNA tests. In contrast, Ancestry and 23andMe will charge between $60 and $100 and will not ask you for your Medicare or insurance information. In addition, they actually perform the tests!
When these scammers offer people the fake DNA tests, the victims are typically unaware that their Medicare account has been charged for the tests until the fees show up on a statement. Since some people do not review their statements, especially if they have not been ill, they have no idea that Medicare was charged for the test. Even if the victims notice the charge, they may believe the charge was legitimate, since they gave their DNA sample to the scammer.
Once the scammers have billed Medicare for the DNA test, they may also try to use your insurance number to obtain medical care, or they may sell your number to other people who want to use your number to get medical services for themselves. For example, your number could be used to obtain a prescription for opioids or other narcotics. There are dozens of ways they can use your Medicare and insurance information to get money, drugs or medical care.
How to Protect Your Medicare Number
Never give your Medicare number out to anyone other than your regular medical providers. Give your new Medicare number only to those providers you trust, such as your doctors, pharmacists, insurers, and those who work with Medicare on your behalf.
Say "no" to any offers of free medical tests from anyone other than your normal medical practitioners if the offer is contingent on providing them with your personal information. This doesn't mean you should avoid common tests at community health fairs where local nurses perform checks of your blood pressure, bone density, and simple scans. Those community health fairs can be life saving. However, only participate if the services they offer are truly free and they do not require you to provide them with any financial or medical information. They may ask for your phone number or email, so they can contact you about your results.
Be careful not to give your Medicare number to anyone who supposedly wants to offer you "free" medical services. If their services are free, they should not need your Medicare or other insurance numbers.
Once you have given your Medicare information to your personal medical providers, do not carry your Medicare ID card in your wallet where it could be stolen and used by strangers.
Read your Medicare statements carefully and notify the Social Security Administration if you suspect Medicare has been charged for any services which you did not personally receive. You can go to your local Social Security office or call them at 1-800-772-1213.
If you are interested in additional Social Security and Medicare information, retirement planning, where to retire, or wish find out about common medical issues as you age, use the tabs or pull down menu at the top of the page to find links to hundreds of additional helpful articles.
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