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Every week, join Sydney Waters as she helps you navigate life as a smart consumer. You'll cover everything in avoiding the latest scams, including phishing emails, medical equipment fraud, understanding layaway, hiring a reputable tax preparer, and even digital spring cleaning. Add to your toolbox and flip through your Consumer Handbook Thursdays during NPR’s Morning Edition at 6:42 a.m. and 8:42 a.m., only on KRCU.

Consumer Handbook: Scammers Claim To Offer Genetic Testing Kits Covered By Medicare

Tony Webster/Flickr, License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

If you’re on Medicare, watch out for scammers claiming to offer “free” genetic testing kits that allegedly screen for heart conditions or cancer. It’s really a ruse to steal your Medicare information for fraudulent billing or identity theft.  

You get a call from someone claiming to be from Medicare or an official-sounding organization; one victim reported to BBB Scam Tracker that they received a call from “the Cardiac Test Center.” The caller claims to be providing free genetic testing kits. All you need to do is agree to receive a kit in the mail, swab your cheek, and return the vial. The test will tell you if you have a genetic predisposition to heart disease, cancer, or another common condition. The caller insists that the test will be totally covered by Medicare.

This sounds like a useful test, so you agree. But before the company can mail your kit, they need your Medicare ID number and a lot of personal information. Targets of this scam report being asked extensive questions about their health, such as their family medical history and previous diagnoses.

As always, there are several variations of this con. Previous versions involved scammers going door-to-door or setting up tables at health fairs. Con artists may even provide gift cards or other giveaways in exchange for your participation.

While genetic testing is a legitimate service - some victims do actually receive a genetic testing kit - the scammers are trying to commit fraud by billing Medicare for the unnecessary tests. For the victims, these cons can lead to medical identity theft and, in some instances, a bill for thousands of dollars. Consumers should always consult with their primary care doctor before agreeing to tests.

To protect yourself from Medicare fraud, be wary of any lab tests at senior centers, health fairs, or in your home. Be suspicious of anyone claiming that genetic tests and cancer screenings are “free” or “covered by Medicare.” If a product or test is truly “free,” you will not have to provide your Medicare number.

Don’t share your Medicare number. If anyone other than your physician's office requests your Medicare information, do not provide it. Also, protect your Medicare card by keeping it in a safe place, not in your wallet.

Do not trust a name or phone number. Con artists often use official-sounding names or appear to be calling from a government agency or related area code. Medicare will never call you to confirm your personal information, your Medicare number, or ask questions about your personal health.

If you think you are a victim of Medicare fraud, be sure to report it. Visit medicare.gov to get started.

Cape Girardeau native Whitney Quick is the former Regional Director of Better Business Bureau in Cape Girardeau, MO. She joined the Cape Chamber as Vice President of Programs and Leadership Development in May 2023. Quick is a graduate of Cape Girardeau Central High School and Southeast Missouri University where she majored in public relations.