Consumer Advisory: Seniors targeted for their personal and genetic information
Do you know who you're giving your information to?
DENVER (Sept. 24, 2019) – The Colorado Senior Medicare Patrol (Colorado SMP) that is housed in the Division of Insurance, is cautioning Medicare recipients and their caregivers, and the public in general, to carefully guard their personal information including their Medicare numbers, drivers’ licenses, Social Security numbers, credit cards and even their genetic information and fingerprints.
Potential scams and fraud that attempts to get people’s Medicare information and credit cards are nothing new, but genetic or DNA testing services are a new wrinkle popping up everywhere - malls, parking lots and sidewalks outside of businesses.
And while there haven’t been any incidents reported in Colorado to SMP, other states are reporting that senior Medicare recipients are receiving fingerprint kits in the mail, unsolicited. The kits provide a phone number to walk through a process that ends with the senior mailing their fingerprints (along with a lot of personal information) to the company.
What’s the problem with genetic testing?
With genetic testing, the people offering these services insist that Medicare or other health insurance will pay for the testing - a “don’t worry about it now” approach that can leave individuals stuck with the bills down the road. Even if Medicare does pay for the test, it may not be a great diagnostic tool for everyone, which is why its use needs to be determined by a person’s doctor. It may also use up a person’s annual Medicare wellness visit, meaning that person loses an opportunity to talk with their doctor. Worse yet, the company could be connected to the flood of fraudulent genetic testing claims being sent to Medicare.
These genetic testing services are offering a service to the general population without determining an individual’s actual needs, and they are doing it outside the guidance of a person’s physician.
Screening services such as pre-symptomatic genetic tests -- used to detect an undiagnosed disease or disease predisposition -- are not a Medicare benefit and are typically not covered by Medicare. Similarly, Medicare may not reimburse the costs of tests/examinations that assess the risk for and/or of a condition unless the risk assessment clearly and directly affects the management of the patient. Which is why the use of such tests should only be prescribed by one’s doctor.
People need to keep their guard up
“It’s amazing how brazen these companies have become,” said Kimberly Latta, Director of Colorado SMP. “Just expecting people to hand over their information - drivers license, Medicare number, and genetic info. All without telling people why they need this information and what they’re going to do with it.”
Identify theft and fraud continue to be problems in our society, and a large portion of targets are seniors. Being asked for information - Medicare and other identification cards, credit cards, genetic info, fingerprints - by people and companies that you don’t know should raise alarm bells. Even if someone is not personally responsible for these costs, these efforts can often end up billing thousands of dollars to Medicare - cheating the government and taxpayers out of that money.
Many events - health fairs, senior days, info sessions, etc - do not typically perform a thorough check on the kind of vendors that participate.
“Organizers for senior events and community gatherings may not have fully vetted the companies that set up booths or tables,” cautioned Latta. “We have spent years talking to people about not giving their Medicare number and other personal information to just anyone, and these new tactics are another reason people need to keep their guard up, even at events that are focused on seniors.”
What can you do?
If you are approached by someone (other than your doctor) asking for your Medicare information, or offering you genetic testing for medical purposes, or you receive something in the mail, or online or over the phone that you did not request, especially something that requires you to provide some kind of personal information, decline their services. You don’t know where that information will end up. Do not give them your Medicare number, your driver’s license, your social security number or any financial information as it can lead to fraudulent Medicare claims or worse yet, identity theft. Talk to your doctor about tests and services that are specific to your health needs.
If you have already submitted to genetic or DNA testing or believe that you have provided personal information that you shouldn’t have, contact the Colorado Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) at 1-800-503-5190. For more information about the Colorado SMP, visit the Senior Medicare Patrol and Medicare Fraud website.
The Colorado Division of Insurance (DOI), part of the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) regulates the insurance industry and assists consumers and other stakeholders with insurance issues. Visit dora.colorado.gov/insurance for more information or call 303-894-7499 / toll free 800-930-3745.
DORA is dedicated to preserving the integrity of the marketplace and is committed to promoting a fair and competitive business environment in Colorado. Consumer protection is our mission. Visit dora.colorado.gov for more information or call 303-894-7855 / toll free 1-800-886-7675.