How scammers can take you down the wrong ancestry path: Internet Scambusters #742
Forget about Sherlock. Real-life detective adventures are available for anyone trying to uncover their ancestry.
And as in any good mystery plot, villains are lurking around every corner waiting to trick family historians into handing over their money for little or nothing in return.
In this week's issue, we explain how these ancestry scams work and offer a view from one expert on how to give these crooks the slip.
Let's get started...
5 Scams Set to Trap Ancestry Hunters
Tracing your ancestry is all the rage these days. In uncertain times or as we get older, people develop a passion for finding out about their roots and building a family tree.
Although there are many professional genealogists, most ancestry "detectives" are amateurs and their sleuthing sometimes leads them into scams.
For instance, family historians are being targeted by crooks using the well-known inheritance con trick.
Most of us would be fascinated and delighted to learn that one of our ancestors was extremely wealthy.
It's just a short step from there to be taken in by a report that this ancestor left an unclaimed inheritance and that you could be in line to collect.
Scammers comb ancestry research websites for names and contact details of researchers and then deliver the "good news" about the inheritance.
As usual, they tell victims they have to pay a fee and other supposed processing charges in order to collect. Victims who pay up are then strung along with excuses and requests for more money until they finally realize they're being conned.
The Book of You
A second, well-practiced scam involves mailshots telling recipients their family history, and particularly the story behind their last name, has already been researched.
They may even say the history has been published as a book titled something like "The World Book of ......" (insert your surname here!) or "History of the ...... Family."
"These 'family surname history' books are little more than glorified phone books," says genealogy expert Kimberly Powell on the online research and information service About.com.
"Usually they will include some general information on tracing your family tree, a brief history of your surname (very generic and providing no insight on the history of your specific family) and a list of names taken from a variety of old phone directories."
More Ancestry Scams
If you're into family history, here are three more ancestry scams to beware of:
* Phony Experts. As we said earlier, there are many professional genealogists who can often help solve some of the challenges of tracking down your ancestors.
But there are also plenty of others who set themselves up as experts but know little more than you do about how to conduct research.
Anyone can claim to be a genealogist; there's nothing illegal about that. But it's fraudulent to lie about experience, credentials, and qualifications.
There are several professional organizations, such as the Association of Professional Genealogists and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists, that vouch for the skills of their members. In some cases, members may have had to undergo training and exams to vouch for their skills.
It's down to you to check them out before hiring. To learn more about these organizations and how to verify claims of membership, see this article: What to Look For in a Genealogist You Contract With to Research Your Family Tree.
* Deceptive Software. There are stacks of websites, computer programs, and applications that help enthusiasts create their family tree. They can be a boon for genealogists, especially as trees grow and become more complex.
But some of them are not worth the money you pay, either because similar products are available for free or because they're simply very poor products or services that may actually complicate the research process.
"Unfortunately, some of the biggest offenders are websites that pay for high placement in search results on Google and other sites," says Kimberly Powell. "Many also appear as 'sponsored links' on reputable websites that support Google advertising..."
The best way to avoid being hoodwinked into paying for this type of software or site membership is to find out what others are saying about them by doing an online search.
Beware, though, of websites claiming to list the "best" genealogy software. Some of these sites are as deceptive as the software they promote; they simply charge the program makers a fee to be included in the list.
* Fake Coats of Arms. What could be nicer or more impressive than displaying your family crest in your home?
Well, that depends on whether it's genuine or simply a figment of the imagination of the person who sold it to you.
Unless your ancestors were genuinely wealthy or members of the so-called nobility, it's highly unlikely that there's a family crest.
One trick some firms selling these products use is to employ graphics from the world of heraldry.
Heraldry is a complex collection of symbols, such as lions, armor or feathers, that represent qualities like bravery, justice or membership of the nobility.
There are hundreds of these symbols, so it's perfectly possible for anyone to combine a few of them into a badge that supposedly represents a name.
It's fun but it's phooey!
"Except for a few individual exceptions from some parts of Eastern Europe, there is no such thing as a 'family' coat of arms for a particular surname -- despite the claims and implications of some companies to the contrary," says Powell. "Coats of arms are granted to individuals, not families or surnames."
Producing these coats of arms is not strictly illegal, although the seller should be honest enough to explain what they're doing. So, it's okay to buy one of these products if you want, but be aware of what you're paying for -- basically a piece of creative fiction.
Discovering family history is a great legacy anyone can pass on to their descendants, and have fun in the process of doing the research. But avoid getting carried away by your enthusiasm, or you could become an ancestry scam victim.
Alert of the Week
Yoo-hoo! Need to speak to Yahoo!? Well, that phone number you found is a fake.
The famous news, email, and search provider has warned that, since it doesn't offer phone-based customer service, any number you discover on a search won't be genuine. Nor does it charge a fee for customer support.
So, if you see a search result with a phone number or use a service that charges a fee for support issues like changing your Yahoo! password, it's a scam.
To find out more and learn how to contact Yahoo!, visit their article about contacting them.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!
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