Genealogy Scams - What You Need to Know

A few weeks ago I received an email from a "well meaning" individual I did not know.  He was writing to inform me that based on my DNA results, I am in the "same tribe" as a wealthy man who went missing in Saudia Arabia about 10 years ago and the bank is ready to close his accounts and  disburse the vast amounts of stock he earned from oil revenue. 

Wow, I'm so lucky that this person found my DNA and linked me to a wealthy relative I didn't know existed, NOT!  This letter was clearly a take on the old Nigerian banking scam that still circulates today. 

Another genealogy scam making the rounds that I never receive is one I found on Wikipedia. The "Death Certificate Scam: Person will get an obituary off Internet. Find out relatives related. Get their emails. Contact them with fake story of another family member near death, which of course, is only told in ambiguous language. It originates out of Ethiopia with the "makelawi" tag in the email, but it can have de (German free email tag) along with it."


I'm not sure how many people fall for these poorly worded (in English) emails.  I know several of my colleagues weren't happy to get the DNA scam as they felt that it will make more people hesitant to have their DNA tested.  Although that may make someone pause before spitting, being able to make your results private would lessen the likelihood of fraudulent people contacting you because of your test results, if that is your concern.  (I've had people tell me they were hesitant to take a DNA test because they didn't want the insurance company to get the results and deny them coverage which would be illegal but we all know how that goes.)

My concern is different then my colleagues; as I blogged a few weeks ago, I have been volunteering with an organization trying to obtain photos of American service people who were killed in Europe during World War II.  In contacting a small public library in rural Indiana for assistance, I was surprised to hear back that the family of the killed in action serviceman was found but they were hesitant to provide a photo because they had several questions about the reasons the photo was needed.  


I, too, check out organizations before I affiliate with them so the inquiry was probably a wise course of action.  I forwarded the email to the person I had been working with and the library staff received a detailed explanation, an offer to provide the name and contact information of the local individual who had been maintaining the grave for the past several years, an invitation to attend the upcoming memorial service and the organization's goal as the 75th anniversary of the deaths approaches.  


I was impressed with the response less than 24 hours after the questions were received but disappointed that the family decided to ignore the information.  This reminds me of a distant cousin I have who absolutely refuses to share photos of our shared ancestor because, well, there is no reason. 


Not every query is a scam.   If you are concerned that you received a possible nefarious email, check out the FTC's recommended ways to recognize and avoid scams.  If you are contacted for a picture of your great great grandma by someone who writing a history of the town she lived in, most likely it's a legitimate request.  Check it out and after making a decision, respond to the inquirer with your answer.  It's the right thing to do.











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