Washington state

Man took DNA swabs of Kennewick seniors for a health screening. They never saw him again

A group of Kennewick seniors could be the latest targets of a new type of Medicare fraud.

A man showed up in an apartment complex recreation room carrying a case of DNA-testing swabs and a camera. When senior citizens came by, he offered to swab their cheek for a DNA test to see if they might be at risk of cancer.

He told them that the test was free; Medicare would pay for the entire process.

He snapped pictures of several seniors’ identification and Medicare cards, said Kellie Young, who said her mother-in-law was one of the participants in the screening at the downtown Desert Hills apartments.

Weeks later, when results didn’t show up, one of the residents called the number they were given and were told “they didn’t have enough DNA on the swab to get any results so he would come back tomorrow.”

The man never showed up.

People who participated in screening called police, who turned over the information to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.

While the federal agency would not confirm whether there was an active investigation or whether a crime occurred, the incident is similar to reported scams nationwide.

Testing fraud

The federal agency is seeing a rising number of fraud schemes involving genetic testing. Often they will offer “free” screenings, and will get participants’ Medicare information.

The information is then used for identification theft or to create fraudulent bills, the scam alert said. The scammers find their targets on the phone, at public events and health fairs, and some of them go door-to-door looking for willing seniors.

People who agree might get their cheek swabbed, or have an in-person screening or a testing kit in the mail.

Scammers bill Medicare for $6,000 to $9,000 for the tests, according to a Kaiser Health News article.

The number of these types of complaints is also climbing, with as many as 50 reports a week, according to authorities.

Medicare only covers the cost of genetic testing in limited circumstances. If the claim is denied, the senior could be responsible for the entire cost, which can average between $9,000 and $11,000.

While none of the Kennewick seniors have been billed or had their identity stolen, Young wants people to be aware that it could be easy to fall for a scam.

What you should do

AARP and the federal agency suggest people should be wary of anyone offering something for nothing.

The AARP Fraud Watch program suggests people should note all dates of medical appointments and services, and if something doesn’t look right, call the medical provider’s office.

The two organizations shared the follow tips:

  • Don’t give out personal information to people who show up unexpectedly. Only share Medicare information with trusted providers.
  • Review Medicare summary notices closely, and the AARP suggests signing up for electronic notices to keep a closer look at health care.
  • Make sure a trusted doctor assessed your condition and approved the genetic testing.

People can report falling victim to a scam by calling 1-800-447-8477.

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Cameron Probert covers breaking news and education for the Tri-City Herald, where he tries to answer readers’ questions about why police officers and firefighters are in your neighborhood. He studied communications at Washington State University.