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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Have you seen this genealogy scam?

Anyone who researches their family history knows the thrill and excitement that comes from an email
that may lead to a possible living connection.  We love cousin hunting and get excited like a kid on Christmas morning when a message come in that says “I think we are related.”  On occasion there may be an email from an institution or an attorney’s office about a probate case.  However, genealogy specific phishing scams were a new one for me.

I wanted to let everyone know about a scam that was in my email this morning from the address I use for this blog.  At first I read the subject line and was very interested.  After a cursory glance through the email red flags went up right away.  That was even before breakfast without my glass on too!

When we put our information online we need to expect emails from nefarious sources.  Throughout history there were people who prayed on the naive, gullible, or simply over trusting.  Today is no different.  The email I received however, was a first for me.  It was not from a foreign dignitary, no large sum of money was quoted, nor was there a plea to help them because they were in danger.  Nope, it was a simple query about an intestate will.

Lawyers, fellow genealogists, investigators, and heir hunters reach out to people every day in similar manners.  I know this.  You probably know this.  Well it seems that scammers know this now too.  I have to hand it to the person, it was very unique. 

What gave it away?  Well, the way it was written mainly.  Oh, and most people who find me through this blog know, or can figure out, what my name actually is.  My first name is not Combs in case you were wondering.  That sent up the flag for a robot or automated response.

Here is the email:

Dear  Combs,
Good day to you! It is very important that you get back to me as soon as possible so we can discuss further.
A late client of mine who shares the same family name with you ,died intestate with a huge sum of money left behind with no one to claim. He may be a relative or not but i would appreciate your confidential attention to this matter.
Do kindly get back to me as soon as possible for more details/discussions
Yours truly

I would love to know if anyone else out there has received a phishing email with a genealogy slant.  If not, this must be new and just the first time I was targeted.  Wonder how else these guys will try and trick us?

**Update: Here is a link to a BBC Warning about Heir Hunting scams in the UK


  1. Yep, I got one of these a couple of weeks ago! Mine was a little different - it named said deceased client (initials paired with my last name) who died intestate, and also said that the sender, "Mr. Gavin Davis," worked with a South African Financial Institution. However, I was also greeted by my last name, like you, and it went to the address linked from my website.

    1. Several people have contacted me and let me know that they are receiving similar emails. They really went all out with yours!