Charlotte’s Blog

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Scamming as a Superspreader

We have all seen the advertisements for the on-line services that will help you find your ancestry by taking a sample of saliva and matching up your genes against many thousands or even millions of others.  My husband found he is related to his sister…wow?  But on a more serious note, scientists are delving into the genes that can be predictive of serious illness risks or genes that may make us more prone to certain conditions.  They even have found in a huge study of millions of veterans that certain genetic types are more susceptible to PTSD.  In other words, trauma affects different people differently based on their genes.

Your genetic profile to delve into your family history tells you up front how much it costs, and what you will get from it.  But there has been a scam that has been targeting age-qualified seniors to take a genetic screening with the false promise that Medicare will pay for it.  Well, Medicare requires a doctor’s orders for most genetic tests, and Medicare won’t cover all requests.  Some genetic tests are quite sophisticated and have a ticket price of thousands of dollars.  And your doctor is unlikely to request it on your behalf.  So how has this worked for the scammers?

The enterprising scammer in this case paid kickbacks to telemarketing companies and even to doctors to approve the tests.   In addition to the telemarketing companies, this particular fraudster posted on Facebook and Craig’s list and sponsored booths at senior fairs soliciting eligible seniors.  In some cases, the seniors were offered gift cards to entice them.  Once approved by a doctor – taking a kickback – the Lab doing the testing billed Medicare.  According to the Department of Health and Human Services more than $3,000,000 was billed by one of these scam rings at about $6,000 a test.  Federal authorities are prosecuting the perpetrators.

If you have an older loved one, please follow these four recommendations to avoid genetic testing fraud:

  1. If a genetic testing kit has been mailed to your older loved one have them refuse it unless it was ordered by their personal physician.
  2. Encourage your loved one to report anyone or any company offering a “free” genetic test.
  3. Be an advocate for your older loved one and be certain of the medical reason for any genetic test, even if Medicare is expected to cover it.
  4. As always be suspicious of anyone requesting the Medicare number of your loved one; report it.

Charlotte Bishop is a Caregiver Coach, an Aging Life Care Advisor, a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.


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