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Long Lost Relative Scams & Other Issues with DNA Testing

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The popularity of genealogy and DNA testing services like 23andme, Ancestry.com, and MyHeritage are helping people learn more about themselves. You can have your DNA tested for diseases and genetic conditions, your full ethnicity, and in some cases, your genealogy can help you meet long-lost relatives. 

Or, maybe these DNA companies are just logging your DNA to clone you in the post-apocalyptic future like in Charlize Theron’s Aeon Flux. At any rate, these services are becoming popular so the opportunities for scammers to find an angle to make money off of you are also growing. 

Social engineering evolves with the times. As soon as something becomes popular, someone will find a way to use it to steal some of your hard-earned cash. While genealogy sites are a great way to learn about your health, history, and meet distant relatives, you need to be aware that there are still risks involved when you turn over information to them. Not every person has good intentions, even if you share a few chromosomes, so it’s important to be mindful of the motivations of the new people you may meet. There’s also the potential for family secrets to suddenly become not just exposed, but all over the Internet.  

With the makings of a cheesy 80’s family comedy, you can suddenly meet long-lost family members that you knew nothing about. These services are revealing certain family secrets like adoptions and secret siblings. DNA evidence can help circumvent adoption regulations and other closed documentation that protects identities. Sperm donors and biological parents are getting confronted with meeting their offspring. 

Luckily, since this does involve DNA testing there is little chance of fraud. Using these services does not directly open you to trouble or scams. But once you’re suddenly confronted with a handful of random people who share your DNA, you can get exposed to people who may have negative intentions, old resentments, or bad blood.

When you participate in these sites, strangers linked to your DNA can message you on the site or reach out to you via social media. 

You wouldn’t let your sketchy cousin borrow 500 dollars, but suddenly you may have countless sketchy cousins you don’t know anything about. You may not know them well enough to protect yourself from scams. 

So, how can you protect yourself from scams? 

The first step is being aware of what some of the scams entail. 

One popular scam is the inheritance scam. This involves someone claiming that you have a pending inheritance; you just need to pay a certain fee to unlock it. This can be a processing fee or a lawyer’s fee or other unspecified “legal costs.” But clearly, if you are entitled to an inheritance you don’t have to pay anything to receive what you’re entitled to. 

Your interest in learning more about your history can take you on a fun journey into the world of genealogy. But be aware that another potential scam is that there is no licensing for genealogy specialists. If you want to explore more information than you can get from these services and you start searching for a specialist, he or she could be a scammer. 

If you want to verify if someone is in fact a genealogy specialist, you can check and see if they’re registered with the Association of Professional Genealogists

In general, despite your newfound “family,” you’ll want to be mindful of what information you share. It’s okay to be open to meeting a new family member but be aware not to disclose too much information until you really vet the person and get a sense of their character and their intentions. Be responsible before giving away too much personal information or any important family heirlooms. 

You’ll also want to keep an eye out for any data breaches for these services. After all, hackers could end up with more than your info, they could get access to your chromosomes. That’s the Tom Cruise sci-fi movie turn that you don’t want. Check with the site to see what kind of security they have and Google what, if any, breaches have already taken place that you should know about. 

Overall, these new genealogy and DNA testing services are giving us a greater picture of who we are, which is an exciting development. You can glean all kinds of information from where your family came from, where in the world your DNA came from, and even what might be on the horizon healthwise. But giving your information to these sites does open you up to family secrets long buried, potential new relatives, and possible security issues. Blood makes you related, but loyalty makes you family. So be sure to be smart and take care of your sensitive information so you can avoid any potential scams. For

more tips about how to be safe online, read 5 Personal Secrets You Could Be Sharing Without Knowing.

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