Medical Cancer Swab Screening Scam

Consumers have reported receiving calls or online solicitations for free medical cancer screening kits in exchange for Medicare information. While cheek swabs are used in common screenings for illnesses and genetics, unprompted and unsolicited calls or online advertisements for free cancer screening kits are a scam.

Phone. Often this scam begins with a phone call, letting consumers know that their doctor has referred them for a free cancer screening kit. The caller then asks for Medicare information, claiming their insurance will cover the kit. The cancer screening kit does normally arrive at the home of the consumer but it typically does not go to a cancer screening facility, or if it does, consumers are required to pay out of pocket.

Internet. This scam can also originate as an online advertisement. The advertisement will state consumers can receive a free cancer screening kit. Clicking on the advertisement will bring consumers to a separate page to provide contact information as well as insurance and Medicare accounts.

Medical swab and screening scams poster

Signs to spot a cancer screening scam:

  1. An unsolicited phone call or internet advertisement stating qualifications have been met for a free cancer screening kit.
  2. The products claim Medicare or other insurance providers will cover the cost.
  3. Often described as free in exchange for Medicare information
  4. The seller claims a doctor has approved a referral for the cancer screening kit.
  5. Personal identifiable information (Medicare information, Social Security Number, Date of Birth) is requested.

Never provide personal information over the phone or online if you’re unsure where this information is going or you were contacted without request. If you receive a cancer screening device without requesting one or provided your Medicare information to an unknown scammer, call Medicare right away to report fraud at 1-800-MEDICARE.

If you or anyone you know has engaged with a scam, please contact the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424.

Contributing Editor:  Alexandra Esposito
Content Editor:  Crystal Baldwin

Sources: AARP
Medicare
OIG Department of Health and Human Services

Together, We Can Eliminate Elder Abuse

Nationally, of the 60+ age cohort, 1 in 10 adults experience some form of mistreatment each year.”[1] National Center on Elder Abuse

For every case of reported elder abuse, neglect or exploitation, about 23 instances go unreported.”[2] VT Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Aging and Independent Living

Elder abuse occurs in many forms: physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, neglect, abandonment and financial exploitation.  Elder abuse can occur in any setting and can be by a person or entity.  There could be a preexisting relationship of trust—and in most cases victims know their abuser—or a connection can be new.[1]

Each of us can play an important role in preventing elder abuse.  The first step is recognizing and identifying signs of abuse.  These steps are outlined by the Attorney General’s Elder Protection Initiative and the Department of Aging and Independent Living in this linked release commemorating World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

Knowing how to contact the agencies and organizations that can assist is essential to eliminating elder abuse.  To simplify the reporting process, the following is a list of resources.

REPORT CONTACT
Life-threatening
situation
911
Suspected elder
abuse, neglect or
exploitation, including
financial exploitation
Local Police and
Adult Protective Services of the
Dept. of Aging and Independent
Living (800-564-1612), if about a
vulnerable adult
Abuse of a person
living in a nursing
home, assisted living
facility, or board and
care home
Long Term Care Ombudsman of VT
Legal Aid (800-889-2047)
Concerns regarding
licensed health care
facilities
Survey and Certification of the
Dept.of Aging and
Independent Living
(888-700-5330)
Domestic Violence VT Network
Domestic Violence Hotline
(800-228-7395)
Sexual Violence VT Network Sexual Violence Hotline
(800-489-7273)
Misuse of Social
Security
Benefits
Social Security Administration
Office of the Inspector General
(800-772-1213)
Medicare Fraud and
Abuse
VT Attorney General’s
Medicaid Fraud Unit (802-828-5511)
Unauthorized Real
Estate Transfers
Vermont Legal Aid (802-775-0021)
Broker and Investment Advisor Fraud Dept. of Financial Regulation:
Securities Division (802-828-3420)
Bank Fraud Dept. of Financial Regulation:
Banking Division (888-568-4547)
Insurance Agent,
Adjuster, or
Carrier Fraud
Dept. of Financial Regulation:  
Insurance Division (800-964-1784)
Scams and
Identity Theft and
Consumer Fraud
VT Attorney General’s
Consumer Assistance Program
(800-649-2424)

If you are still not sure who to contact, call United Ways of Vermont 2-1-1 information and referral hotline (dial 211 or 802-652-4636).  They are a great resource, connecting Vermonters to organizations and agencies.  They have committed to enhancing their referral work specifically for calls related to elder abuse and exploitation.


We can all commit to ending elder abuse by serving those in our communities that may be preyed upon.  Here, at the Consumer Assistance Program, to help prevent financial exploitation in scams, we distribute scam alerts and encourage recipients to share the information with friends, neighbors and loved ones.  Anyone can sign up by calling us at 800-649-2424, or by visiting our website ago.vermont.gov/cap/stopping-scams.  The Elder Protection Initiative has even more information on how you can help on the Get Involved page.

More Resources:  
WEAAD: World Elder Abuse Awareness Day
Facts: Fact Sheet World Elder Abuse Day  
Videos: Strengthening the Structure of Justice to Prevent Elder Abuse by the NCEA
Elder Abuse-Learn the signs and break the silence

Contributing Writer:  Crystal Baldwin


References:
[1] National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA)
[2] DAIL and AG Commemorate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Health Care Scams Loom

Health is very important. To stay healthy, we may get the urge to try new health care products or medicine without knowing a lot about them. Unfortunately, health care scams loom. Below is what you should know about health and medical product scams.

Health and medical product scams try to convince the consumer that there is a “cure-all” medicine, treatment, or product at a very low cost. These scams may surface as an email, an advertisement on the internet, or as a phone call. The scammers may claim to be linked to doctors or hospitals. The offers may look real, but the products could be fake and endanger a person’s health.

Signs to spot a health or medical product scam:

Medicine bottles
  1. An unsolicited email/advertisement offering a popular medication at a very low price.
  2. The products are very cheap and offer “cure-all” characteristics.
  3. The seller claims a prescription is not necessary.
  4. You’ve never heard of the product.
  5. The mentioned doctor is not real.
  6. There is no scientific data on the product.

If you find a new health and medical product that you are unsure of, always ask a trusted and licensed healthcare professional about it. If you find a suspicious healthcare website, do not give any personal information or financial information. Always do research and get the facts to stay informed and stay safe.

If you or anyone you know has engaged with a scam, please contact the Consumer Assistance Program at 800-649-2424.

Contributing writer: Courtney Thayer

Vermonter of the Month: Claire Hancock

This is a monthly series in which the Attorney General will feature a Vermonter doing exemplary work in their community. Have someone you think should be featured? Email AGO.CAP@vermont.gov.

Claire Hancock is a licensed clinical social worker at Copley Hospital. Through 31 years of service, Claire has been a literal and tireless lifeline to people and families in a very challenged system, according to those who know her work.

We first met Claire during the Elder Protection Initiative listening tour—through which we sought to learn about the challenges facing older Vermonters. What we learned, in addition to these challenges, was the profound significance of Claire’s role as an advocate for the most vulnerable Vermonters. Claire, who has been quietly hailed in her local and professional community for decades of service helping patients and their families arrange for the care and services they need upon discharge from the hospital, prevents people from falling through the cracks.

Claire recently retired from full time-work at Copley Hospital, but continues to work a few hours each week as a clinical supervisor. She also recently began working part-time for Lamoille County Mental Health as the Elder Services Clinician, providing counseling and case management to older adults.

What is the greatest challenge you’ve experienced in working with vulnerable patients?

The greatest challenges of working with vulnerable adults are the inadequate resources available to them. While there are many agencies and programs that provide some assistance, it is a fragmented confusing system with complex eligibility criteria, so it is overwhelming and confusing to any person, not just vulnerable adults. Services are improving and expanding slowly but there are still big gaps, like inadequate transportation in the rural areas, lack of affordable housing, inadequate financing for hearing aids and dental issues, and not enough affordable quality care for those with dementia. On a personal level, I have been visually impaired since age 18 and do not drive so I experience the lack of transportation first hand.

What inspires your work, or is rewarding about this work?

What is rewarding for me in this work, is having the privilege of getting to know the unique, interesting lives and personalities of elders; hearing their stories of life as they share their most personal, heartbreaking, and sometimes wonderful experiences. Their wisdom and sweet spirit are so moving and inspiring.

What have you learned from your work?

I have learned that this work requires a great deal of empathy and patience as well as being a “detective” to get down to the facts as well as the emotions of a situation.  Whatever difficulties, conflicts and negative situations people are in, there is always fear and grief underneath. Our job is to access this fear and grief and help to relieve at least some of it. I believe that most people are well intentioned and want to do their best, but bad things do happen to good people.

I have learned that as a “helper,” I only know a small slice of a person’s life experience.  We must not judge. We must not make assumptions. Nothing is black and white; it is all gray, and the work is never done.

 What advice do you have for others looking to impact their community?

I believe that each town needs to develop (if they haven’t already) an organized, reliable volunteer program to help fill some of gaps in services, like transportation, food shopping, laundry and other household tasks and companionship. I know that there are many community members who would love to volunteer to help others with various tasks and care of elderly who are sick or have dementia, as this enriches the life of both the volunteer and the elder person.

Content Editor: Crystal Baldwin

Announcing: The Elder Protection Initiative

Last Friday, on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, our office made an important announcement: we launched a new unit focused on protecting older Vermonters. It’s called the Elder Protection Initiative, or EPI.

Supporting and protecting Vermont's aging population


The EPI is team of attorneys, investigators and staff from across the VT Attorney General’s Office (from its Criminal, Public Protection and Human Services Divisions) who will act to address issues facing older Vermonters through collaboration with government and community partners, public education, legislation, and enforcement. To read more about EPI, visit its website here: http://ago.vermont.gov/epi


The Listening Tour

The EPI has roots in a listening tour the Attorney General’s Office just completed. Throughout April and May, to better understand the unique challenges that older Vermonters face, a team from our Office visited each Vermont county, listening to older Vermonters and organizations that serve them. We shared meals in tight-knit communities, went on Meals on Wheels delivery routes, and shared in the varieties of joys and anguish that our elders are experiencing. We listened. We learned. And after meeting with dozens of older Vermonters and over 230 representatives of 65 organizations, we want to help.

Through our listening tour, we heard older Vermonters and organizations that serve them repeat similar concerns, including:

  • Isolation and lack of transportation
  • Lack of affordable housing
  • Lack of access to healthcare
  • Food insecurity
  • Finding affordable and suitable care for loved ones with Dementia
  • Difficulty accessing available information and resources
  • Our systems are struggling to uphold older Vermonter’s safety, security, and dignity

To help older Vermonters and those who serve them, our office established the Elder Protection Initiative described above. As the EPI embarks on its work, it will continue to listen and stay informed about issues facing older Vermonters.

First Collaborations

Already, the EPI has worked with Vermont 2-1-1 to address one of the most common concerns heard on the listening tour—difficulty accessing information and resources on programs and services that are available to older Vermonters (and their caretakers) where they live, from transportation to food delivery services (like Meals on Wheels). Vermont 2-1-1 maintains a 24/7 hotline and a website that provides just this information. To access this free information, dial 2-1-1 or visit vermont211.org.

EPI-Learn what we're doing

The Executive Director of 2-1-1, MaryEllen Mendl explains, “The 2-1-1 statewide system has been built over the course of the last 13 years for a public-private partnership between United Ways of Vermont and state government.  Allowing for a quality-driven platform for the delivery of professional information and referral, and a database containing thousands of community resources.” 2-1-1 is also committed to enhancing its capacity to assist callers with concerns specific to elder abuse and exploitation.

Thank you, Vermont 2-1-1, for this outstanding commitment to Vermont’s elders!  We look forward to seeing this collaboration flourish and many more develop as we work to support the needs of Vermont’s aging population.  The initiative has just started its efforts in support of Vermonters.  There are more developments and solutions that will come out of this group’s work. To stay connected, check in regularly on the Elder Protection Initiative page on the Vermont Attorney General’s Office website.

Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin