A scam artist posing as a genealogy researcher can be very charming and confident and appear to be the right person to find family documents. Seeing through facades can avoid emotional and financial heartbreak and help find a genuine researcher. Here are the worst warning signs I believe mark someone as a questionable researcher:
1. Attitude that everything can be found. A positive attitude is great but the reality is communists destroyed so many records and so did the fighting during the two world wars.
2. Lack of knowledge of the records available for a village, town or city. A true professional easily should know what information is available or be able to quickly get the information.
3. Inability to provide documentation of records. At a bare minimum, a researcher should give file numbers of family records if documents cannot be scanned or photographed. Individual archives have different procedures but taking photos of archives dated before the Russian Revolution is allowed in some archives.
4. Guarantee to get records after the Russian Revolution. Records after 1919 are considered closed and hard to get. Proof of ancestry and charm are needed to get these records. A personal visit to archives by relatives increases the chances of getting post-revolution era records.
5. Request for too much money as a deposit. A researcher should ask for no more than half the entire bill as a deposit.
6. Requirement that Russian or American money be sent in the mail. The money can be easily stolen by a postal employee. One archive employee told me foreign mail that has money is considered questionable mail and destroyed. She never told me what is done with the money. Use your imagination. The researcher could get the letter with the money by luck and say it never arrived. I prefer sending money by Western Union, which sends e-mail messages when money is picked up. It’s hard to deny money was never received when using Western Union. Bank transfers are considered safe too but the questionable researcher could complain the money never got into his or her account.
7. Inability to give an estimated bill or the time needed to complete the research in advance. This is a major warning sign for a bad researcher or a fake one.
8. Constant advertising for business. A good, experienced researcher does not need to beg for work. His or her reputation attracts work independently.
9. Scant presence on the Internet. The researcher should be found online somewhere besides his or her website, which can easily vanish overnight with the e-mail address. If someone is a credible researcher, he or she should be found posting on forums, mentioned on other websites related to genealogy or seen on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, VKontakte, Odnoklassniki.
10. Offer of an e-mail address as the only contact information. You should know the researcher’s business address and phone number. The business address and phone number should be found on a few websites or online phone directories. A phantom phone number or business address easily can be given.