Police turn to Ancestry website to help crack identity fraud cases

Police turn to Ancestry website to help crack identity fraud cases

 Police have attempted to use the UK’s largest family tree website to solve identity fraud cases, it can be revealed.

British officers requested user data from industry giant Ancestry three times in 2017, according to the company’s transparency reports. 

Some 10 million people use the site to find out about their family history and track down long lost relatives.

As well as creating family trees, customers can trade their DNA for genetic insights, receiving a report on what percentage of their DNA is estimated to be from different regions of the world and being matched to relatives.

Between 2015 and 2017, a total of 57 requests for Ancestry user data were made by law enforcement bodies from around the world, 52 of which were granted.

Figures show that the number of requests has more than doubled in that period, suggesting that police forces across the world are increasingly turning to ancestry sites to help solve crimes.

The 44 requests for information submitted between 2016 and 2017, of which 39 were granted, were criminal subpoenas related to investigations involving credit card misuse and identity theft.

City of London Police, whose fraud squads investigate some of the UK’s most complex cases, were unsure what kind of information police would have been seeking from Ancestry.

But the force suggested officers may have been using the family tree site to find out if a name being used by an identity fraudster was of someone who had died.

None of the requests were for genetic material, though the possibility of accessing this information is thought to be of increasing interest to police following the use of the GEDmatch DNA database to arrest a suspect in California’s Golden State Killer cold case. 

Police uploaded crime scene DNA believed to be from the murderer to the GEDmatch database, which unlike Ancestry is public, and found relatives as close as a third cousin which led them to a pool of suspects.

To use GEDmatch, users have to agree to make their information public and attach at least an email address to their profile.

Ancestry told The Sunday Telegraph: “Protecting our customers’ privacy and being good stewards of their data is Ancestry’s highest priority.

“This commitment to privacy includes not sharing customer DNA data with insurers, employers, or third-party marketers.

“In addition, Ancestry will not share customer personal information with law enforcement unless compelled to by valid legal process, such as a court order or search warrant.”

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