COVINGTON, Ga. (FOX 5 Atlanta) - Scammers target us all, but they hone in hard on the more vulnerable populations like seniors. We have to help protect them. So, get up to speed on the latest scam impacting them: the DNA test scam.
If I said to you, 'Has anyone in your family had cancer?' You would most likely say yes, and that's how this DNA test scam gets started. And it doesn't end until they've walked away with your very personal information. Listen in as these seniors from Covington explain what happened to them.
"He was going from apartment to apartment, very persistent," remembered Charles Bell, a scam victim. He always thought of himself as a pretty sharp cookie until this happened. "I thought I was."
But he was up against a successful scam cutting a swath across the state that targets victims already on fixed incomes.
His retired neighbor Gay Cain recalled the door-to-door salesman, too. "He had on scrubs; he had on a name tag; he had everything like a professional has."
And according to Covington police, he was a pro alright. Mr. Bell and others laid it all out in police reports that show someone came to their retirement community, knocked on doors claiming to conduct home cancer screenings, had them swab their mouths for DNA, then asked for their Medicare, insurance, and social security card information.
"They offer the test, but then they gather very sensitive information from the victims," Capt. Ken Malcom of the Convington Police Department told the Fox 5 I-Team.
Captain Malcom said they can use this personal information to, one, fraudulently bill Medicaid or Medicare, and two, to steal their identities to open credit cards or other accounts in their victims' names.
Another neighbor, Ms. Wyatt, told me she showed the man who dropped by her apartment her personal information, which contained her social security number, and allowed him to take what she thought was a DNA swab. And she never heard from him again.
"No, I haven't," she reiterated.
Ms Wyatt said she's been a fraud victim before, so she was reluctant to open the door. But still, this man - dressed the part - found a way in by using an old carnival trick. He asked Ms. Wyatt and others if they had anyone in the family who'd had cancer knowing good and well what the answer would be.
"They'll ask them, 'Hey does anybody in your family have a history of cancer?' Well who doesn't," the police captain said.
And Ms. Wyatt's response was just what the man playing doctor ordered.
"I said, 'Yes, my sister just passed.' I said, 'My father passed of cancer; my brother passed of cancer.'"
And just like that he got her. While one man worked the community, the other sat in a vehicle waiting in case they needed to move on quickly. Capt. Malcom walked us to the parking lot across the street from the retirement community.
"They weren't parking over there; they were parking over here, which alerted one of the residents that there may be a scam, the fact they wouldn't drive the vehicles on the property."
Scams are not new, but the DNA testing scam is. Why? Well, an advocate for Georgia seniors said Medicare now pays for some genetic testing, so it's not a far-fetched notion to have a medical professional tell you that this might be right for you. But, that's the rub: You need to talk to your doctor, not a door-to-door salesperson.
Nathan Coflin with the Georgia Senior Medicare Patrol explained.
"We want you to talk to your doctor about what's best for you. Maybe you're a good candidate, maybe you're not. Maybe it's something you want to go through with, maybe it's not. But your doctor, your personal care physician should have the good answers."
Sounds easy, but obviously the DNA test scam works. The bad guy looks the part, scares people and pressures them into decisions they'd not normally make. So make a point if this comes your way to walk away.
And this is just one facet of the scam. According to our volunteer group "Call for Action," there have been cases where companies come to retirement homes by invitation of management and offer these DNA tests. What they do is have unscrupulous doctors who've never met the patients sign off on these tests. Again, these tests might not be right for you. Consult your personal physician.