If you thought face-to-face confidence scams were obsolete thanks to the wonders of modern connectivity, well, think again. Today’s grifts have only gotten creepier.
Bloomberg reported today on the rising trend of con artists portraying themselves as medical professionals while offering residents of low-income communities a few bucks in exchange for a DNA swab and some personal health information. In some cases, the perpetrators have even placed advertisements on Facebook offering “free cancer screenings.”
“Would you give a DNA sample to a guy in a white van if he offered you $20?” a Kentucky news anchor asked his viewers this month. “That’s an actual thing happening right now in some of Louisville poorest neighborhoods.”
At first, reporters in Kentucky seemed mostly puzzled by the men in white vans; though it was obvious they weren’t on the level. State Attorney General Andy Beshear warned last week that the men likely planned to use their victims’ insurance and personal information to file bogus Medicaid reimbursement claims. “Scammers are exploiting Kentuckians’ medical needs in an attempt to take in illegal profits,” he said.
The information could also be used to steal their victims’ identities, leaving them saddled with debt.
The swabbers in Kentucky falsely represented themselves as being affiliated with Passport Health Plan, a local Medicaid insurer. The residents who were targeted, most of whom were black, took part in the “screenings” because they were struggling to get by. They later told reporters that something “didn’t feel right.”
The men, for instance, appeared to have no paperwork to prove they were actually affiliated with Passport. In a statement to Bloomberg, the insurance company said it was “in no way affiliated with this activity.”
Scammers are also targeting residents of senior-living communities, Bloomberg reported. State insurance officials in Nebraska, for example, received similar reports and last month warned residents that the conmen were approaching seniors at assisted living facilities, offering to swab their cheeks “for genetic material purported for DNA checks for cancer.”
“They are preying on poor people,” Louisville Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith told Bloomberg. She also shared a business card reportedly obtained from one of the scammers. The website listed on the card didn’t exist and no one answered calls at the phone number provided.
Sexton Smith also showed reporters a screenshot of a Facebook post for “free cancer screenings” that offered $20 to anyone with Passport insurance. Users were instructed to come to an intersection in Louisville’s Smoketown neighborhood, just southeast of downtown.
“Kentuckians should rely on the advice of their primary care physicians—not someone who is calling them by phone or driving by in an unmarked vehicle,” Attorney General Beshear said in a statement.
Readers who believe they’ve been a target of Medicaid fraud should contact authorities immediately. The Department of Health and Human Services can be reached at 1-800-HHS-TIPS (1-800-447-8477), or online here. Kentucky residents have been asked to call the attorney general’s Medicaid Fraud Hotline at 877-228-7384.