Law enforcement concerned about genealogy website that collects your information

There are dozens of websites where you search and build your family tree, but one site in particular is raising concerns from the law enforcement community.

Posted: Nov. 7, 2017 1:37 PM

(Note: This story originally aired in May 2017)
There are dozens of websites where you search and build your family tree, but one site in particular is raising concerns from the law enforcement community.

WAAY31's I-Team dug deeper into FamilyTreeNow.com to find out just how accurate it is.

"Everybody's immediate concern when they hear about a site like this is 'am I on there?,'" said Jessie Pollard.

The site Pollard is referring to is FamilyTreeNow.com. It was developed to be easy to use and help people build their family trees and learn about their ancestors.

"It has things that are all public information, but you would think it would be harder to find out for somebody than just logging on," said Pollard.

The website gathers public records on just about everyone. The site says it wanted to create the, "best free genealogy website in the world."

"For really no cost they have detailed information. Addresses, phone numbers, relatives, associates," said Pollard.

Pollard is a domestic violence investigator at One Place of the Shoals. She said this site is different because people don't have to pay to use it. All you need is a person's first and last name to pull information up.

"For people who have that fear in their life or that presence, it can be very terrifying," said Pollard.

Pollard said she worries an abuser could use this site to find a domestic violence victim. Although there are no reports known of that happening, it still concerns Pollard and police.

"For people who are trying to start fresh and want to get away from that, and maybe don't want someone to know where they are living," said Pollard.

We decided to test the accuracy of FamilyTreeNow.com at a park in Florence. We went up to people and asked them to search their names.

"It has my sister and our parents and what years they are born, how old they are," said Lauren Killen, as she searched her name on the site. "Then our current address, so where we live right now and where we've lived the past two years."

Killen said she was a little little disturbed by what she found. "A lot of our personal information is all on there," said Killen.

We also tested the site's accuracy with a local police officer.

"Even my cell phone number was out there," said Florence Police Sgt. Brad Holmes.

But that wasn't the only thing on the site. It had Holmes's address, his family members, and even places he's lived in the past.

"To have that information that is out there, I think it raises a red flag of concern," said Holmes.

Holmes told the I-Team, the FBI even sent out a bulletin warning police about FamilyTreeNow.com. We reached out to the FBI. Agents said they regularly send bulletins to local police agencies but do not comment on specific bulletins. The website does not identify people as police officers or public officials.

"In this particular case the FBI did send out a memo to law enforcement agencies informing us about this, in the hopes that we would inform members of our police department as well as the community about the depth of information recovered by these sites," said Holmes.

Holmes said the bulletin did not clarify what prompted the FBI to send it out, but agents wanted to let the public know your information could be on it.

"Be diligent in ensuring what information about you is out there publicly," said Holmes.

You can get your information off of of the site by clicking here. The link will take you to the opt out portion of the website. In order to opt out, you have to start the process by finding yourself then click the big red opt out button.

People we spoke with at the park said they already plan on getting their information off the site.

"I think it's definitely creepy," said Killen. "It's something you want to be aware of that your information is out there for anybody to find."

FamilyTreeNow did not have a direct line we could call to ask them about privacy concerns. We have emailed, tweeted and reached out to them via Facebook for a comment but haven't heard from them yet. We will update the story if we do.

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