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April 18, 2008

The Dark Side: Genealogy Rip-Offs Listed

Ninety-nine percent of the businesses that sell products and services to genealogists are legitimate companies that work hard at supplying the best products possible. This article will focus on the other 1%.

It seems that scam artists have been around forever in the world of genealogy. They existed centuries ago, and they exist today. I have written about a number of them in past newsletters, and you may encounter still more such scams if you use any modern Internet search engine.

As a convenience for newsletter readers, I am compiling a list of alleged genealogy scams. In short, this list will be updated as often as necessary and will contain the name and web site of each company that reportedly delivers less than what they advertise to the genealogy marketplace. In most cases, the listing will include a link to other web pages where the reader may find further details.

A listing here does not mean that the company has been proven guilty or even that it has had a court appearance. While a listing here does indicate significant customer dissatisfaction, the listing should not be construed as proof of guilt. The information is provided solely to assist you in exercising your own best judgment. I believe the information contained in this report is reliable, but there is no guarantee as to accuracy. Reports are subject to change at any time.

Morphcorp Corporation, also known as “Family News” or the “Family News Network

Many consumers who purchase the product have alleged that it does not represent their specific family genealogy information. Complainants allege that the company sends similar genealogy information to a wide range of customers.


The company paid a $ 30,000 civil penalty in 2006 and also paid the State of Colorado $25,000 in attorney fees and costs and have agreed to significant changes in the way "Family Yearbooks" are marketed. However, the company's business practices have changed little, and the company continues to send out misleading advertisements for the "Family Yearbook." If your name is Smith, you will receive an ad for the “Smith Family Yearbook.” Anyone with a last name of Jones will receive ads for the” Jones Family Yearbook.” In fact, both  publications will contain nearly identical generic information with nothing specific to either the Smith family or the Jones family.


While these are called “yearbooks,” the publications do not seem to change from year to year. Each booklet contains generic information about the origins of surnames, a list of references for “how to research your own ancestry” and similar, material. You can find more and better information within a few minutes by using any search engine. Unlike these so-called yearbooks, the information found via search engines is mostly available free of charge.


The company had a web site at www.ourfamilyyearbook.com, but that now appears to be defunct.


For more information, look at the Better Business Bureau's web site at http://denver.bbb.org/WWWRoot/Report.aspx?site=33&bbb=0885&firm=11038 and at this newsletter's earlier stories at http://www.google.com/search?ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=morphcorp&btnG=Search+This+Site&domains=blog.eogn.com&sitesearch=blog.eogn.com.



SearchYourGenealogy.com, Ancestry-search.com, and Australian-Ancestry.com

These sites claim to have “the largest online genealogical search tool” and promote themselves as the foremost resources for genealogy; however, they are nothing more than a series of web pages with links to other services. On each site, potential customers are lured to purchase under what we feel to be false, misleading, or deceitful promotional material, and the buyer gets little or no value out of money spent at these websites.


Further information may be found at http://blogs.ancestry.com/ancestry/2008/04/10/potentially-fraudulent-sites-posing-as-genealogy-websites.



Clett Island

Clett Island is situated on Loch Dunvegan in the heart of the Scottish Highlands. The island's owner is selling small plots on Clett Island as "Heritage Land Plots." His advertising is mostly aimed at Americans and Canadians, apparently appealing to those of Scottish descent. However, the Scottish National Parliament (SNP) claims that the deeds issued are not worth the paper they are written on. In fact, SNP media and culture spokesman Mike Russell is furious, claiming the scheme is illegal and also exploits Scotland's culture. "This is a cynical exploitation of Scottish history and culture and I want it stopped," said Russell.


The sale was conducted on the seller's Web page at http://www.clett.com but the site now appears to be defunct.


The BBC has an article about this at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/2577095.stm and I wrote about it also at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2007/05/update_own_a_pi.html.



Family Trackers



The owner of Family Trackers also owns several other web sites, including Market Profiles at www.MarketProfiles.net. According to that web site's main page:
      Market Profiles is a full-service research company that surveys members of our online panel about the web sites that they visit and sells the results to web site marketers through affiliates and directly through our online store." In other words, a genealogist receives unsolicited mail from Family Trackers, believes it, signs up, and "even recruits and organizes indexers and transcribers on Family Trackers." All of these folks then have their information collected by surveys, and that information is then sold to other marketers. While this is misleading, it is probably legal. Still, you might want to know the “full story” before filling out any surveys.


Details may be found at the owner's own web site at http://www.MarketProfiles.net.



Independent Committee of Eminent Persons

This is a very pathetic scam. You receive an unsolicited e-mail message stating that a bank official in Switzerland has “discovered” millions of dollars left in an account by a now-deceased relative of yours. Most of the time, there is a reference to the deceased person being a Holocaust victim. The sender of this message usually has a forged return e-mail address; clicking on REPLY doesn’t work. However, the body of the message tells you how to supply your personal banking information so that “the money may be deposited directly to your account.” The unsolicited message may even say, “There is no risk involved.”


Of course, once you supply your personal banking information, the scam artist is able to drain all the funds already in your account. Then the thief promptly disappears.


NOTE: There is a real organization called the “Independent Committee of Eminent Persons.” It is part of the International Monetary Fund. However, it doesn’t search for money left in bank accounts, doesn’t notify relatives of “newly discovered funds,” and doesn’t send out tens of thousands of e-mail messages with bogus return e-mail addresses.


You can find hundreds of references to this on Google by starting at http://www.google.com/search?source=ig&hl=en&rlz=&q=Independent+Committee+of+Eminent+Persons&btnG=Google+Search.



“Your Wealthy Relative Died in a Car Crash”


This is a variation of the well-known Nigerian scams. You receive an e-mail message from someone claiming to be a lawyer, a solicitor, or a bank employee. The letter says that someone with the same last name as yours was killed in a horrible automobile accident a few years ago, and the bank that is holding his funds is trying to find heirs. The person writing the message has decided that you are the likely heir.


At this point, the scam becomes the same as the various Nigerian scams or the Independent Committee of Eminent Persons scam described earlier. You are asked to supply your bank account information so that “the money may be deposited directly to the account.” Of course, once you supply your personal banking information, the scam artist is able to drain all the funds already in your account and then promptly disappears.


If you receive such a solicitation, quickly click on the DELETE key.


Whenever you receive an e-mail message from someone you do not know, hang onto your wallet tightly! Never accept such messages at face value. Ask a friend, preferable some who is very experienced with online activities. Before you ever divulge personal banking information, ask your bank to review the message you received. Banks are experts at recognizing scams, and they offer their advice at no charge to their customers. Use that service!


Finally, if anyone ever says they will give you money, be suspicious. That simply doesn’t happen often. In addition, if anyone asks you to first send money before they give you money, ask yourself, ”Why?” The sender of the message may claim that he or she has to pay fees in advance. Ask for documentation and receipts.


If anyone sends you a message claiming that you can obtain large sums of money, say to yourself over and over, “This is too good to be true.” Then believe it. It is a scam.




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