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Missouri officials warn of phony DNA tests

There have been significant advancements in genetic testing in recent years. With a simple swab of the cheek, people can learn whether they have genetic markers that could make them prone to developing serious and potentially fatal diseases, such as certain types of cancer.

However, officials with the Missouri Department of Social Services (DSS) are warning people to beware of people offering them free genetic testing. There have been numerous cases reported throughout the country of scammers posing as researchers or health care professionals offering free DNA tests to Medicare and Medicaid recipients. Unfortunately, in some cases, actual doctors have been in on the fraud.

The Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) says it's been receiving about 50 complaints a week of fraudulent DNA testing (up from just a couple a week a year ago). Those are just the people who realize they or someone they know has been scammed when they don't get any test results. Some forget they even took the test.

Victims -- many of them senior citizens -- are giving these scammers personal information, including their Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security numbers, that allows them to fraudulently bill these programs for the tests using the victims' identity. The average Medicare payment for one of these tests is $6,000 to $9,000.

The victims typically aren't out any money, but taxpayers as a whole are. Meanwhile, the victims have given out what should be confidential information. Medicare and Medicaid information shouldn't be shared with anyone besides legitimate health care providers.

Many of these fraudsters go to health fairs, senior centers, low-income housing complexes and even antique stores. They sometimes solicit people using Craigslist, Facebook and email. They know how to scare seniors by telling them the tests can show their risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and even suicide. Some involved in these scams have been held accountable and sentenced to federal prison.

If you believe you've been the victim of one of these scams, you should notify the attorney general's office in your state. If you've been harmed by the misuse of your personal information that was obtained fraudulently, it may be wise to consult an attorney and determine what your legal options are.

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