Consumer advice: The looming risks behind DNA testing

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People want to know their genetic makeup and for about $70, Ancestry DNA, 23andMe or MyHeritage DNA (to name a few) can answer that question along with others — like what are your potential health risks or can you discover long-lost family members?

In 2017, about 12 million people had their DNA analyzed through at-home genealogy test kits. Many blindly participated without fully understanding the implications of how their data will be used, shared or protected because the privacy policy is filled with a bunch of legalese and in some cases is 21 pages long.

So this brings up the question: What are DNA companies doing with your data? Well, it isn’t exactly clear but they all seem to have privacy policies not well understood by consumers. There certainly is an incentive for these companies to want to protect your DNA because their business future depends on maintaining customers’ trust.

Here are some concerns to consider before you take the test.

1. Hacking. It has been reported that more than 92 million accounts from MyHeritage DNA were found on a private server separate from the company.

2. DNA companies ask customers to opt-in to share their data with third-party research partners, thereby losing control over its use.

3. Current laws covering genetic privacy through the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA) are not broad enough to ban employers or insurance companies from accessing this information.

4. Law enforcement is already requesting access to your data and can do so under subpoena.

5. Finally, there is seemingly no limit to what these companies can do; they just have to state it in their privacy policies. Chances are if you didn’t read it the first time around you aren’t likely to read it now.

The extent that law enforcement and the federal government can pressure these companies to share your DNA is only starting to be tested. But in the end, perhaps your curiosity is powerful enough for you to sign up anyway. You be the judge. For now, I think I’ll keep my DNA to myself!

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PUPPY SCAM WARNING: If you see offers of puppies for sale, or even free puppies offered online, consider carefully before proceeding. Some scammers are using legitimate sites like PuppyFind.com to set up bogus profiles to swindle unsuspecting victims out of money for a puppy that probably doesn’t even exist.

The alleged breeder has the victim sign a contract to buy a puppy and asks for a deposit to be sent to hold the puppy. In one instance, the buyer sent $600 by MoneyGram to hold the puppy. Then on the day of shipment, the seller told the buyer that the airline needed more money to insure the dog before shipping it.

One delay led to another and all told, the buyer sent the breeder more than $1,500 for a dog that she never received. PuppyFind.com was notified of the incident and has removed the bogus seller’s account from the site. Unfortunately, this has still left the victim out the money and puppyless.

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NOT-SO-JOLLY NETFLIX OFFER: Netflix has a huge library of movies on demand and is constantly featuring Netflix exclusive, quality shows. Scammers have noticed this too and just in time for the holidays are emailing consumers with enticing notices that they can enjoy one year of Netflix for free. With plans ranging from $7.99 to $13.99 a month, this can add up and seem like an unexpected gift. But beware: It’s a scam.

The recipient gets an email that looks like it’s from Netflix with a subject line “Claim your 12 free Months of Netflix. No Credit Card Required.” Notice the capitalization errors? If you click on the email, you are redirected to another email address, so pay attention. There is usually a link to click but don’t click on it and never enter your login or financial information after following a link in an email.

If in doubt, go directly to www.netflix.com to access Netflix. Netflix asks that if you receive an email like this, you forward it to phishing@netflix.com and delete the email.

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REMEMBER: I’m on your side.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email or give me a call. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. You can either email me at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at 208-274-4458. Please include your name and a phone number or email. I’m available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. I’m a copywriter and consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.

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