Veterans could become the targets of scammers attempting to steal their benefits information and identity through unsolicited genetic testing kits, the Department of Veterans Affairs warned this week.
The warning, which came through a VA Office of Inspector General alert, said to be on the lookout for offers of at-home genetic testing kits. It asked veterans to report potential scams involving genetic screening tests not directly ordered by medical clinicians.
"We are aware that scammers sometimes send out these kits to entice veterans and others in an attempt to steal medical information for identity theft and fraudulent billing," VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes said in a statement to Military.com via email. "VA is not sending out these tests."
The medical testing kits can be used to determine health conditions that may appear in DNA and can help medical professionals better diagnose or treat patients.
The Pentagon has previously warned troops about using genetic testing kits, citing security concerns.
"These [direct-to-consumer] genetic tests are largely unregulated and could expose personal and genetic information, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission," a 2019 Defense Department memo said, according to Yahoo News.
While the VA alert did not specifically cite national security risk, it indicated that scammers could send these "free" testing kits to veterans to steal their personal information.
For example, veterans could receive one of the testing kits in exchange for their benefits number or other personal information, which would then be fraudulently used for "billing purposes," according to a Department of Health and Human Services press release related to genetic kit scams in general.
Scammers could also take that information for any number of fraud-related crimes like identity theft.
Neither the VA alert nor the Defense Department warning named any DNA kit companies specifically. However, two of the most popular commercial genetic testing kits are from AncestryDNA and 23andMe. It is unclear how many veterans have been affected by this type of scam.
The VA warned veterans specifically to look out for several red flags that might indicate a scam, the bottom line being that "genetic testing should result from a finding of need by their physicians," according to the alert.
Other red flags include:
- "Free" genetic testing kit offers from solicitors claiming to be with the VA
- Genetic testing kits received by mail that were not ordered by a VA medical clinician
- Demands for personal, health or benefits information
- An "explanation of benefits letters indicating VA was billed for testing not received"
- Unsolicited offers for incentives to participate in genetic screening
The VA also warned clinicians themselves to be wary of potential solicitation through faxes or calls requiring certification of genetic screening, legal threats or coercion to sign fraudulent lab orders, and fake clinical notes scammers claim are "sent on behalf of patients."
To submit a complaint for this type of suspected fraud -- or fraud in general -- Hayes urged veterans to contact the OIG hotline at www.va.gov/oig/hotline or call 808-488-8244.
-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.