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How to Identify & Avoid Genealogy Scams

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While reputable genealogy sites are quite prevalent online, there are unfortunately several Web sites on the Internet which make fraudulent claims or take your money in return for no results. Learn how to check out a genealogy Web site before you join or put down any money so that you won't get taken in by a genealogy scam.

1. What are you Getting for your Money?

Look at the details of what is claimed to be offered. You should expect to be able to see a list of the exact records, databases, and other sources that you'll be able to access through a paid subscription. Look for exact details. A general claim of "marriage records" means nothing - if the site doesn't provide details on the location and time period covered by the marriage records, as well as the source, then you should be suspicious. Most reputable sites even allow you to do free searches to see what specific records are available for your name before you subscribe. Be careful of Web sites that won't provide any type of search results or database list before you join.

2. Look for Contact Information

Look under contact information for a physical address and phone number for the company. If the only way to contact them is through an online contact form, consider that a red flag. You should also do a Whois search on the domain name to learn more about who your dealing with.

3. Challenge the Search Results

If your search for a name turns up something vague, such as "Congratulations, we've found xxx records on Mary Brown in Charleston, WV" try typing in a bogus name to see what comes up. It's amazing how many sites will purport to have records for "Hungry Pumpernickle" or "aoluouasd zououa."

4. Look for Repeated Terms on the Main Page

Be suspicious of Web sites that repeatedly use words such as "search," "genealogy," "records," etc. over and over on their home page. I'm not talking about sites that use each word a few times, but sites that use such terms dozens and dozens of times. This is an attempt to get high search engine placement and can sometimes be a red flag.

5. Free Isn't Always Free

Beware of sites that offer "free genealogy records" in return for sponsors' surveys, etc. You'll generally be taken through page after page of "offers" which will ultimately fill up your mailbox with offers you don't need, and the "free records" at the end will most likely be things you could have accessed for free on your own. Useful free genealogy records are available in many locations online, and you should not have to jump through a bunch of hoops (other than possibly register your name and email address) to access them.

6. Check Out Consumer Complaint Sites

Do a search for the Web site on consumer complaint sites such as Complaints Board and Rip-Off Report. If you can find anything on the Web site itself, try looking at the fine print under the Web site's "terms and conditions" to see if you can find the name of the company that operates the Web site and then do a search for complaints on that company.

7. Send Them a Question

Use the Web site's contact form and/or email address to ask a question before you plunk down any money. If you don't receive a response (an automated response doesn't count), then stay away.

8. Consult with Others

Search the RootsWeb mailing lists, genealogy message boards, and a search engine such as Google (+"company name" +scam) to see if others have had problems with a particular genealogy service. If you don't see any comments on a particular site, then post a message to ask if others have had any experience with the site.

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