Stephanie Garland: BBB urges caution when asked to undergo DNA testing

Given the popularity of genealogy websites that promise to trace your ancestry with a DNA testing swab, it can be tempting to gain insight into your medical condition — including diseases you didn’t know you had — with a DNA swab. However, consumers should use extreme caution when asked to undergo genetic DNA screening.

Better Business Bureau offices from across the United States have received reports of consumers being asked to take part in free DNA testing. Consumers are told the test can detect cancer and other diseases. Consumers are asked to provide Medicare and Medicaid information so the company doing the testing can file insurance claims.

By giving strangers your insurance information, you’re opening yourself up to possibly having your identity stolen. The BBB encourages consumers to be as protective of their insurance information as they are with their Social Security number and other sensitive personal information

A nonprofit organization from St. Louis alerted BBB after a representative from a testing company offered to give a presentation to a group of senior citizens. The nonprofit told BBB a man wanted to collect DNA samples after delivering a short presentation. The nonprofit told the man that he could give a presentation but not take samples. The man did not show up to the scheduled presentation.

BBB spoke to the man who offered to give the presentation. He said he was an independent contractor for a Tampa, Florida-based business. He said the business collects DNA swabs from its clients and does genetic screening on the samples. The man said there is no cost to the consumer. He said the company collects the consumer’s Medicare or Medicaid information and files insurance claims on the client’s behalf. The man said he did not have a medical degree.

A BBB investigator was able to watch a training webinar presented by the man’s company. The presenter told viewers the company could not entice anyone to take the test by giving them either money or a gift to participate. He said the company could not use the word “free” when promoting the screenings but rather refer to it as a “no cost” screening because insurance will be billed for the tests. Webinar attendees were told to “dress to impress” and to always “wear a badge.”

BBB was able to obtain a copy of the requisition forms the business submits with the DNA samples. While consumers are not required to share their Social Security number, the business does ask the consumer for their insurance information, and consumers are required to let the business take photos of their photo ID as well as their insurance card(s).

BBB could not find the business registered with the secretary of state’s offices in Illinois, Missouri or Florida.

BBB offers the following tips on avoiding health care scams:

• Research any business and its owners carefully. Check the company’s BBB Business Profile at bbb.org or by calling 417-380-5074.

• Don’t only trust a name or phone number. Con artists often use official-sounding names or mask their area codes to make you trust them. Don’t fall for it, do more research.

• Never share personally identifiable information with someone who has contacted you unsolicited, whether it’s over the phone, by email or on social media. This includes banking and credit card information, your birthdate, Social Security or Social Insurance number, and your health insurance number.

• Just because someone is dressed like a health care professional, it doesn’t mean they are qualified to practice medicine. Make sure to verify their credentials before you allow them to assist you.

• Go to BBB’s ScamTracker to learn about scams trending in your area or to report a scam.

Stephanie Garland is the regional director for the Better Business Bureau office in Springfield, 2754 S. Campbell Ave. Among those counties served by BBB Springfield are Jasper, Newton, McDonald, Lawrence and Barton counties. Emails may be sent to sgarland@springfieldbbb.org. You can find a retailer’s BBB rating or read a BBB Business Profile by going online to www.bbb.org or by calling 888-996-3887.

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