12 April 2008

Identifying genealogy scams

Ancestry.com's blog recently warned against potentially fraudulent sites posing as genealogy websites.

It was posted by Ancestry.com's public relations director Mike Ward.

We have recently become aware of three websites purporting to allow family history research: SearchYourGenealogy.com, Ancestry-search.com and Australian-Ancestry.com. The sites claim to have “the largest online genealogical search tool” and promote themselves as the foremost resources for genealogy, but from what we can tell, these sites are nothing more than a series of web pages with links to other services. These sites, in our opinion, are clearly fraudulent.

On each site, potential customers are lured to purchase under what we feel to be false, misleading and deceitful promotional material, and get little or no value out of money spent at the websites. Blog and message board posts from the community confirm this opinion.

The people/companies behind the websites are buying very high level paid search results on Google and other sites. In addition, they are using trademarks of well-known websites, including Ancestry.com and Genealogy.com, to get higher-than-normal natural search results. It appears the site colors, fonts, and pictures on at least one site are designed to mislead people into believing the site is related to Ancestry.com.

As the leading online family history company, The Generations Network, Inc. and its website properties including Ancestry.com and its global network of Ancestry sites, Genealogy.com, and Rootsweb, we want to encourage consumers to validate and verify the legitimacy of a website before providing credit card information or paying for services. TGN will take appropriate administrative and legal action to do its part to protect the community from these sites.

About.com: Genealogy's Kimberly Powell's blog posting commented and added information:

....On a related note, there are also other Web sites on the net which make money in similar ways. Another series of genealogy sites that I've run into appear to be run by a company that calls itself Software Doctor, Inc. These include a host of sites such as birthrecords.ws, pennsylvania-records.com, freerecordsregistry.com, family-genealogy-search.com, etc. You can see an example of their affiliate program in this 2007 newsletter posted at softwaredoctor.com, but what I find intriguing is that the primary softwaredoctor.com URL now redirects to Google...

So how do you protect yourself from scams such as these. Unfortunately, many of these sites pay for high placement in search results on Google and other sites. Many also appear as "sponsored links" on reputable Web sites that support Google advertising, including Ancestry.com and even this site. This makes it appear the fraudulent site is being endorsed by the Web site on which it appears, although that is generally not the case. Therefore, before you provide anyone with credit card details or payment, check out the site and its claims to see what you can learn. There are a number of things you can do to identify and protect yourself from genealogy scams.

She offers an additional posting listing steps to identify such sites and protect yourself. Click the link for information on the following: What are you getting for your money? Look for contact information. Challenge search results. Look for repeated terms on the main page. Free isn't always free. Check out consumer complaint sites. Send them a question. Consult with others.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Schelly,

    I would assume that Ancestry will go after these companies in terms of trademark violation - I would hope so. I know that when you have a trademark, the most difficult part is enforcing it, especially in countries outside the US. If you don't, then the practice only proliferates.

    What I've done is to:

    - post a BBB report agains these types of sites. Most BBB chapters let you do this online

    - post a report at "consumer rating" sites like Angies List. Sometimes this is only done if you've actually bought the product and have been scammed.

    Good post!