Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Are there genealogical catfish and what do we do about them?

Online, a "catfish" is someone who pretends to be someone they are not. They generally have some ulterior motive in contacting people through social media. I am absolutely positive that I have been approached online many times by people who were not as they represented themselves to be. Naturally, involvement in the day-to-exchange online opens the door to this kind of abuse. Unless online requests are directly pertinent to some aspect of genealogy, I make it a rule to never respond to anyone I do not personally know either through friendship or by reputation. I also make it a rule never to respond to "personal" questions or inquiries.

The use of a catfish online presence is very closely related to two other types of scams: phishing and trojan horses. Phishing is the sending of an email with the hope of attracting a potential victim. Responding to a bogus inquiry can result in the infection of your computer with malware or worse.

There was a recent article in the local news about a woman who has exposed five catfish in the matter of a few weeks. See "A Utah woman fed up with online catfish turns the table on scammers." The answer to the question in the title to this post is yes, there are genealogical scammers and catfish. There have been quite a few articles in the local news recently about this relatively new term for online scammers.

If you need a tutorial to help you navigate all of the possible frauds and scams online, there is a Federal Bureau of Investigation website that lists "Frauds from A to Z." Interestingly, "catfishing" is not listed. I guess it hasn't hit the big time yet like some of the others. With all of these possible online frauds, it would be easy to get paranoid and retreat from online. But working online is similar to working in a big city like New York or San Francisco. You are in some level of danger just being in a large city, but if you live there, you are accustomed to the danger level and adjust. Some of us who live a great deal on the Internet have simply adjusted to the vicissitudes of the modern online world and know how to use the delete key liberally.

Here is a short list of websites that talk about scams. Be careful not to get scammed by online websites that talk about scams.

ActionFraud. “A-Z of fraud.” Text. Action Fraud, October 23, 2012.
Grant, Ash. “Top 10 Worst Internet Scams.” Accessed February 17, 2016.
“List of Email Scams.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, December 11, 2015.
“The Scam Of All Scams: Sucker Lists.” Forbes. Accessed February 17, 2016.

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