A new rash of scams has popped up around the country aimed at poor and elderly citizens. The locations vary, as do the particular scamming methods.
However, they all piggyback on the rise of home DNA testing, and they all aim to acquire vulnerable targets’ personal information.
In each case, the bad guys offer bogus DNA tests to collect victims’ personal information, then rack up phony claims from Medicare and Medicaid.
The “white van scam” was a particularly high-profile example: In poor sections of Louisville, Kentucky, drivers of unmarked vans offered residents cash payments for DNA samples. According to Louisville authorities, the ring acquired the sample donors’ personal information in hopes of filing bogus reimbursement claims with Medicaid.
Global News reported in April that this particular effort was shut down, but phone scams promising free DNA testing for cancer screening have been reported in California and Nebraska.
Law enforcement hasn’t yet identified a clear connection among these attempts. Nevertheless, Donald E. Petersen, an Orlando, Florida, trial attorney who represents consumers against callers that violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), told us, “Often, the same players eventually surface.”
The methods these “players” lean on are not random, nor are they accidental, according to Baron Christopher Hanson, consultant and owner of RedBaron USA, a in Charleston, South Carolina, that works on security issues involving phone fraud.
As Hanson told us, scammers “require advanced systems of phones; large ‘vulnerable phone number’ databases; and if you can believe this — training.”
These criminals are not relying on unsophisticated tactics or clumsy scripts, Hanson said. “They are trafficked, trained, and compensated for their score by sophisticated scam artists as managers / CEOs.”
These recent scams, whether via phone or white van, include the promise of a cost-free DNA swab test that can detect cancer, and seek to obtain people’s Medicare or Medicaid number (and other personal information) which can then be used to charge reimbursements on services that never occurred or were not medically cleared.
These tests, even when done for legitimate reasons, are not without some privacy risks, as we recently reported.
And when it comes to unscrupulous enterprises, the scammers are careful about picking their targets.
According to trial attorney Petersen, “Scamsters prey on the uninformed, so senior citizens and immigrants are ideal targets especially if the scamster obtains a list of leads consisting of such persons.”
The white van scam also focused on lower-income citizens, for whom a $20 cash offer may be of greater interest. Victims may be older and more susceptible to pressure or coercion, or other citizens in a desperate situation that can be preyed upon through fear.
According to Baron, the targets are chosen carefully and the tactics are clear: “The ringleaders bank on isolating their targets and rushing them through a series of slip-ups whereby they reveal bits of information, and eventually strings of information –– like a full social security number, or address, or bank account number.”
Petersen thinks avoiding this scam and others starts with a simple approach: “Exercise some skepticism.”
Baron agrees: “The first step is to assume any random caller over the phone is a professional scam artist — automatically — until they do 2-3-4 things to prove otherwise.”
For more information about specific scams and how to avoid and report them, you can go the AARP’s Fraud Watch page and learn more about protecting yourself.