How to Avoid DNA Testing Scams

You may hear about DNA in the news or in conversations. But what is DNA, really?

In the past, it was easy to trick people into buying the Brooklyn Bridge. Just have some official-looking documentation and a suit, and people would buy whatever you had to sell. After all, everybody wants free stuff. That, or a get-rich-quick scheme.

Enter the modern era. People have gotten smarter. They’ve wised up to some of these tricks. But the con-men are going to keep trying to get away with your money. Scammers have to evolve with the times.

Too Good to Be True

One such scam, that recently came to our attention, involves the fake sale of “Free” DNA tests. The US Department of Health and Human Services warns that scammers are offering Medicare recipients free genetic tests. They offer these “free” tests as promotions from big-name companies, such as 23andMe. 

Sometimes they call you, pretending to be Medicare, and offer to send you a “Free” DNA test. All you have to do is give them your Social Security and Medicare numbers. Sometimes they just send the test to you without your consent.

And if you do give them your information… then they have access to your Medicare account. They can commit identity theft and fraud using your information. A “free” genetic test could end up costing you a lot.

How to Protect Yourself

Rule #1: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

This is a simple gut-check. You should immediately suspect anything that seems too good of a deal to pass up. If it sounds too easy or too cheap… it probably is.

Rule #2: Don’t buy the sob story

One common tactic for scammers is to trick you into believing their story over the phone. They’ll claim they’re just some clerk, working another job. Or that they’ll get fired if you don’t take the test. Don’t buy this. You owe this person nothing.

Rule #3: Do your homework

Don’t accept something for free if it might have strings attached. If you have to give away valuable personal information, such as your Social Security Number, Medicare ID, or Credit Card Number, then it’s not actually free. Whenever a person or computer asks for your information, ask yourself, “Do I trust whoever is making me this offer?”

Look up the company that offers the genetic test. Do they have a valid-looking website? Are they accredited? How long have they been around? If your research turns up any red flags, don’t give your information away.

Rule #4: Only trust certain people

There are only a few people who you can trust with a genetic test:

  • Yourself
  • Your doctor
  • A close family member (Spouse, kids)

And that’s about it. With the exception of your doctor, if they’re not in your will, you can’t trust them.

If you think you’ve been scammed for your Medicare number, you can contact the US Health and Human Services hotline for help. If you’ve been scammed for your Social Security Number, you will need to report the identity theft to the IRS.  You can also report the stolen Social Security Number to the Federal Trade Commission. And if your credit card information was stolen, call your bank and have them cancel the card and send you a new one.

How to Find a Genetics Testing Company You Can Trust

But let’s say you’re in the market for a genetic testing kit. How do you know what companies you can trust to deliver? After all, businesses come and go. Even big businesses can go under, or worse: lose your information.

So with that in mind, we have some general tips to help you find the right testing company for you (even if it isn’t us)!

Tip #1: Avoid fly-by-nights.

This tip is actually easier said than done. Many companies can put on a good show. They can have a great-looking interface, easy-to-use software, and down-to-earth publications. They can even offer great deals.

But you have to look beyond the surface. You have to do your homework.

For example, you should be able to answer the following questions when you’re thinking of buying a genetic testing kit:

  • How long has the business been around? Are they accredited?
  • What publications are they featured in?
  • Do they have reviews, both good and bad?
  • What security and customer service do they offer? Can I speak to a real human?

If you can get an answer to these questions with a reasonable amount of probing, you have probably found a company that is not a fly-by-night.

Tip #2: Examine their science

Even if a company is not a fly-by-night, they may still have bad science. It’s important that a genetic testing company has solid scientific underpinnings. 

But I hear you cry: “I don’t know any science!” 

Don’t worry. I got you.

Here are some questions you can ask that don’t require a Ph.D:

     1. How do they collect your DNA?

This is important because genetic testing requires your DNA. Any test that does not get your DNA is not a genetic test. In order to get your DNA, a company should sample at least one of the following:

  • A blood sample
  • A cheek swab or spit sample
  • Hair with skin attached
     2. Who tests your DNA? Are they accredited?

Some larger companies may have their own laboratories where they can conduct tests. Smaller companies may have to send samples they receive to an independent laboratory. Genetic testing companies should be able to tell you where they send your sample, and if the lab they use is accredited.

If the company does not know where the samples are sent, or if the lab is not accredited, you probably shouldn’t buy from that company.

     3. What methods do they use?

Be on the lookout for testing methods that sound fishy. There’s a lot of pseudoscientific “woo” out there that will attempt to convince you of whatever a company is selling. Here are some terms that should make you turn around and RUN:

  • Anything involving crystals or “resonance.”
  • Structure-altered water or hexagonal water
  • Homeopathy or naturopathy

Here are some terms you should look for:

  • DNA Microarray or Chip
  • Y-Chromosomal (YDNA) or Mitochondrial (mtDNA) Haplogroup
  • Genome and/or Genetic Markers
  • Confidence (in the statistical sense -- should be accompanied by a %)
Tip #3: Talk to a real person

Companies that don’t want to trick you will have customer service willing to answer your questions. If they seem irritated or annoyed with your questions, don’t buy. If they don’t know an answer -- that’s ok, they’re humans. But they should be willing to ask their manager or coworker for an answer.

Simply put, companies that value your business will take the time to talk to you and help you. They should have a phone number or contact form that makes it easy to reach a real person. A company that doesn’t offer you help isn’t interested in helping you.

Shameless Plug

Naturally, if you’re reading this, you’re already on CRI Genetics blog. It would be remiss of us to not mention our services. We think they’re top notch. But don’t just take our word for it, read what our customers have to say

You can also compare us to other personalized genetics testing companies.

As for security, we go above and beyond what’s expected:

  1. We will NEVER ask for your Social Security or Medicare numbers. Those are completely unnecessary for a DNA test.
  2. Any personal information we get from your (name, address for shipping) is separated from your DNA sample. Our lab will never even see it.
  3. We encrypt all customer information and store it in a secure server that’s completely disconnected from the internet, so it cannot be hacked. This server is even kept behind a locked door, so very few people even at CRI Genetics have access. Those who DO have access are only for the purpose of adding or removing information.
  4. Upon request, we will destroy your DNA sample and permanently remove your information from our server.

Regardless of who you choose, however, we hope that you avoid scams and find what you’re looking for.