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

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Genealogists are not immune to scams


One of the underlying issues I have confronted over the years both as an individual and as a practicing attorney has been the constant background of fraud both in-person and online. Fraud is commonly defined as wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain. One type of fraud has been a part of genealogy since ancient times and that is the promotion of false pedigrees. But recently, many of us constantly suffer from the bombardment of our lives with fraudulent claims through email, robot telephone calls, and regular paper mail. 

If you have a cell phone, then robocalls or random calls trying to promote false claims are a part of your life. The most common one I get recently tries to sell me a warranty on my car. The caller claims that my warranty is about to expire which is interesting because I owned the same car for the past ten years and the warranty ran out long ago. I recently bought a brand new car and I am still getting the calls about my expired warranty. 

One email I got recently, claimed that I had been automatically charged over $200 to "renew" my subscription to a virus protection program called "Norton." There actually is a Norton program but the pricing does not approach the $200 figure claimed in the email. The email came with no official-looking logos, misspelled words, and very poor formatting. 

Of course, you can report scams and frauds to the Federal government and to some state agencies but with the proliferation of robocalls, email, and regular mail scams even the governments cannot keep up. Here are a few fairly easy ways to minimize the impact of this tidal wave of scams. 

The first rule is don't go paranoid. They aren't out to get just you, they are out to get everybody. If you receive any kind of offer, warning, award, plea for help, or anything that doesn't seem to make any sense, just delete it. Don't even think about it, just delete it. This includes throwing it away if it came by paper mail. 

If you get a solicitation for some kind of charity, DO NOT RESPOND until you check the charity out using the website. Then go directly to the website and review the entire program BEFORE YOU SEND ANY MONEY.

One of the most common scams involves a practice called phishing. All they want is for you to respond by clicking on the link they send to you. This will automatically put you on the "suckers" list and you will be inundated by additional scams. Do not open an email that you cannot identify in advance. If you do happen to open the email, immediately close it and delete it. 

Almost all the "junk email" I get is actually a scam. Some unsolicited emails involve legitimate advertising but if you get an email like this one, it is a scam. 

CONGRATULATIONS! You are the lucky online winner of a brand new Sweepstakes Macbook Pro entry!

In fact, it is a phishing email and there is no prize and you will be asked to send in an amount for shipping or insurance or whatever and you will never receive the product. If your first thought is this is too good to be true, then it is a scam. 

Let me go back to the calls about automobile warranties. If you own a car, think for a moment. How old is your car? Did you buy the car new or used? Did you purchase a warranty or extended warranty at the time of your initial purchase? If so, do you still know the length of the warranty? How much is your car really worth? You can quickly check the value of your car by going to the Kelly Blue Book or Most people vastly overestimate the value of their cars. But you also need to remember, if you obtain the value of your car from one of these online services, you will probably get a lot of junk email offering to buy your car or offering to sell you a new one. Now, depending on the actual value of your car, what are you willing to pay every month or year for insurance? Most cars are still drivable and safe even after their value has essentially dropped to a very low amount. 

If you do get sucked into a scam, swallow your pride and report the details to the State or Federal government in your area. Try not to be scammed again. 

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