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5 Family History Scams to Avoid


1 of 5

The Phony Inheritance Scam
Signing Will
Jodi Jacobson/Getty Images
Unfortunately, even in the friendly field of family history the old adage "Buyer Beware" must hold true. While it's not a common occurrence, there are some people who while researching their family tree have found themselves the victim of a genealogy scam, defined by Webster's Collegiate Dictionary as "a fraudulent or deceptive act or operation." Of course the best defense against such hoaxes, scams and other deceptions is knowledge, so I'm including a partial list of known scams and hoaxes that all genealogy enthusiasts should be aware of. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, so be sure to do your research before sending anyone money for anything.

1. The Phony Inheritance Scam

This genealogy scam trips up would-be heirs by appealing to their interest in family history. A letter or email informs you that an unclaimed inheritance connected to your family has been located. After they reel you in with dreams of a far-off rich relative, they relieve you of your money in the form of various "fees" which are supposedly necessary to settle the estate -- an estate which never existed to begin with. The infamous Baker Hoax is one such genealogy inheritance scam.

Phony inheritance scams have been around for a long time, propagated by letters or newspaper advertisements searching for the "rightful heirs" of huge estates. While many of us might question the supposed "fees," many people have been taken in by such scams over the years. Estate frauds touched hundreds of thousands of families, and you may even uncover references to such fortune or estate claims in your family tree.

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