By Robb Hicken/ BBB’s chief storyteller
Roots. Most people like to know who they are, who their parents were, and their parents’ parents, their parents’ parents’ parents, and so on.
Erin Rountree, of Boise, a travel consultant with The Travel Society, is Internet savvy and knows a few research tips – don’t believe every email you get and not everything on the Internet is true.
“Normally, I would ignore an email like this,” she says. “but, this was just a bit different and it got my attention.”
The email lay in wait, set like the steel of a fur trapper … baited, ready to swing shut on the unsuspecting. Rountree says she was going through the piles of email in her inbox following a vacation.
Snap: This one jumped out.
“Good day. I work for a genealogical investigator and we have contacted you with regards to the estate of late Mr. James Rountree who died in an air crash a few years ago leaving his multi million pounds estate unclaimed.As he was a single child and unmarried, its been difficult locating his relatives. Our search has brought us to you as a possible heir, hence we have contacted you to advise on how to claim the inheritance.Do respond to this message ASAP for further discussions.
Regards, Rufus Sewell”
“I wrote him back, said, ‘Sorry, but this sounds like a scam,'” she says.
A followup email ensued. It went into further detail about a genealogy search, background check from the company Bentley and Roberts, in Leeds, England. And a description of the next step in “claiming the inheritance.”
Mr. Sewell, a researher and analyst, wrote that Rountree would need to sign up as a client, file a claim for the inheritance with the UK Government via the HM Treasury, and begin the process of proving she is heiress to $9.5 million.
“If your claim is successful, the British Government would issue you with a claim acceptance notification which you would then use to apply for a letter of administration which would grant you legal rights to the estate as the duly certified heir,” Sewell wrote.
The key to this is Rufus Sewell is directing her to sign up as a client. Genealogy sites all warn people interested in finding their roots to read the fine print.
Kimberly Powell, a genealogy specialist, says there’s so much information out there for free that, if you’re willing to spend the time looking, you can find it.
“In a nutshell, my advice is to stay away, or, at least, go ahead with caution – this is one of several genealogy scams floating around the Web,” she says.
BBB says consider this:
- How much does the service cost?
- Do they offer a money-back guarantee?
- Do you have full contact information – including email, postal address, and phone number?
- Is the email address valid (i.e. try emailing with a question to make sure that it doesn’t bounce)?
- Does a WhoIs search on the domain name who more about whom you’re dealing with?
- Is the company registered with the BBB?
Powell says that a simple query on a search engine will also tell you if others have had problems with a particular genealogical service.
A simple Web search didn’t turn up anything on Sewell, but the research firm Bentley and Roberts, did turn up.
As for Rountree, she says it best, “Why me and the whole Great Britain location. It all gets back to … sounds too good?! … Oh, well, they probably need me, if it’s real, to get their cut.”
This one gets deleted, she says.