Beware of this scam!
On 23 March 1995, the National Genealogical Society (NGS), with the support of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), submitted to the United States Postal Service's Chief Counsel, Consumer Protection, a 120-page report on Halbert's marketing practices with the request that these practices be investigated.
NGS and FGS also launched a "grass roots" campaign to encourage the participation and cooperation of genealogists nationwide. A brochure and companion flyer entitled "PSSST! Wanna Buy Your Name?" were mailed to genealogical societies and libraries. Societies were asked to reprint the cartoon and brochure text in their newsletters. Librarians were asked to post the flyer on their bulletin boards. As a result, many people wrote to NGS and its Ethics Committee about the solicitation materials they had received from Halbert's, and others wrote directly to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
On 21 November 1995, the Postal Service issued a supplemental cease and desist order prohibiting Halbert's from further use of certain misleading marketing practices, which included a consent agreement signed by Halbert's. Previous cease and desist orders issued against Halbert's in 1985 and 1988 remain in effect.
The supplemental order issued in November 1995 includes the following provisions:
Halbert's was ordered to desist from falsely representing ". . .that (1) a solicitation for a surname-related product was sent by a relative of the solicitee; (2) a relative of a solicitee was involved in preparing a surname-related publication; or that (3) a relative of a solicitee endorses a surname-related product." The Postal Service contended that the company's solicitations, which advertised books such as The World Book of [surname] and The [surname] Since the Civil War, violated the 1988 consent agreement, because they appeared to be letters from relatives of the addressees urging them to purchase a recently completed book on their family.
Halbert's was ordered to begin displaying prominently the following disclaimer on any advertising for sumame related publications: "No direct genealogical connection to your family or ancestry is implied or intended."
Halbert's was ordered to cease and desist from "...representing, directly or indirectly, that advertising has been approved by the United States Postal Service."
The consent agreement entered into by Halbert's in November 1995 contains several other provisions. Halbert's may submit proposed advertising to the USPS General Counsel not more than three times per calendar year to obtain an opinion on whether the advertising violates cease and desist orders. Halbert's must pay $2,000 for each submission to defray investigative, administrative, and legal costs incurred by the Postal Service.
For a period of one year from the date of execution of the consent agreement, Halbert's must, ". . . within ten (10) days after written request therefor, pay full and unconditional double cash refunds, including postage, handling, and deposits, to all consumers who have previously requested in writing to [Halbert's], and not received within thirty (30) days after the receipt of the written request therefor, refunds in connection with any and all surname-related solicitations in use prior to the date of [the consent agreement]." Halbert's must also accept and honor refund requests from the Better Business Bureau, the Postal Inspection Service, the Ohio Attorney General's Office, and any other duly constituted governmental entity which has received complaints from consumers about its promotions.
Under the 1988 cease and desist order, the following conduct by Halbert's is prohibited:
Representing that a book is principally about a particular
and the history of this family name
The Postal Service has advised NGS that Halbert's is a member of the Direct Marketing Association and participates in the Mail Preference Service. Anyone who does not wish to receive future mailings from Halbert's can have their name deleted from the company's mailing lists by writing to: Direct Marketing Association, Mail Preference Service, PO. Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008.
The NGS Consumer Protection Committee (formerly the Ethics Committee) is chaired by John P. Shockey.
[This article from the March/April 1996 issue of the NGS Newsletter may be reprinted in other publications.]
For those of you who have received a book in the mail with
"The Book of <insert your surname here> here is an in depth
about the services of Halberts, who produced these books, from Bath
I appreciate this week's Everton's column and suggest that everyone pass it on to all their correspondents, even those not into genealogy.
Within two days of sending it to my correspondents, I received
of thanks from two people who had JUST received a solicitation!
I have been writing about Halbert"s for years. I first wrote an article about them in 1989, long before this newsletter came into existence. Since 1989 I have purchased two of their "books," seen several other Halbert"s "books" and have followed their numerous legal problems in several countries. If you have been involved in genealogy for a while, you probably know about Halbert"s. If so, you can skip the next 5 paragraphs. For anyone who is new to genealogy, however, I will offer a bit of background information.
Halbert"s of Bath, Ohio, is the most notorious of the mail order companies that send out ads offering to sell you "an astounding new book" with insinuations that the book tells all about your family name. These letters, as well as the "books," are all mass produced by computers with family surnames and your name inserted in appropriate places. For instance, a letter sent to me will say:
I have exciting news for you and all Eastmans! Though we are probably not related, I want to tell you about extensive work done throughout the world on a project relating to the distinguished Eastman name. What might be the oldest facts about Eastmans in North America have been discovered. Now, an astounding new book, "THE NEW WORLD BOOK OF EASTMANS," is about to be published for you and it features Eastmans back to 1620."
The advertisement then goes on in breathless prose with lots of exclamation marks scattered about. It claims to present facts about early Eastmans and also asserts that it includes an up-to-date international directory of Eastmans. If your name is Smith, then the letter sent to you will have the name Smith inserted in every place where my letter says Eastman. If you live in England or Germany or some other country, then the geographic references will be changed to match. (Halbert"s is an international operation.) All of the advertisements will claim to be "a one-of a kind book."
If you are gullible enough to order the book for $34.50 plus another $4.88 postage and handling, you eventually receive a booklet of general information about how to get started researching genealogy plus many pages of extracts from old telephone directories listing people with the same last name as yours. The Eastman "book" that I looked at last year had names and addresses listed for some of my relatives who had been deceased for years. The "one-of-a-kind book" lives up to the description; it actually has a cardboard cover and looks like it was glued together on someone"s kitchen table. The pages in the 1996 Eastman "book" weren"t even aligned properly.
I don"t know when Halbert"s started this business, but I know they were already notorious in genealogy circles in the mid-1980s. They have frequently received legal injunctions from postal authorities, but that doesn"t seem to slow Halbert"s down very much; apparently they continue to send out thousands of these advertisements every week despite legal efforts to shut them down.
The Halbert"s ad I received in 1989 was signed by "Doris Eastman, i.a." Now, Doris never claimed to be a relative of mine in that advertisement, but the fact that the letter was signed by someone named Eastman lent credence to the "book" title of The New World Book of Eastman. I was intrigued by the letters "i.a." that appeared after Doris Eastman"s name. After a fair amount of research, I discovered a Legal Dictionary that listed it as an abbreviation for the Latin words "in absentia" or, translated into English, "in absence." In other words, Doris Eastman wasn"t present when the letter was written, and someone else signed her name to it in Doris" absence.
In 1989 I called Halbert"s and asked to speak to Doris Eastman. I was told that "Doris isn"t here right now, can someone else help you?" I was suspicious that Doris was a fictitious name and later court documents proved that my assumption was accurate.
I"ll point out that calling Halbert"s is difficult. Their telephone number isn"t in the ad, and it isn"t listed by the telephone company. I believe that is rather unusual for a company in the mail order business, one would think that they would want to receive orders by telephone as well as my mail orders. I was later told that Halbert"s mailing address in Bath, Ohio is simply a mail drop; there are no offices at that address for a company called Halbert"s. In fact, Halbert"s is one of the trade names owned by Numa Corporation in nearby Akron, Ohio. Apparently, mail delivered to the Bath, Ohio, address is simply forwarded to Numa in Akron. I eventually found a number for Numa and called their offices looking for Doris Eastman. Not surprisingly, she wasn"t there, either.
Halbert"s and Numa were in court in 1988 as defendants in an action claiming false advertising. I don"t have the details of the 1988 action, but the 1995 complaint referenced an order in 1988 requiring Numa/Halbert"s to stop claiming that the advertising letters were signed by relatives of the addressee. The 1995 court session apparently took a dim view of Halbert"s fake signatures. Quoting from an announcement released later by the National Genealogical Society:
At that time Halbert"s was ordered to cease and desist from falsely representing ". . . that (1) a solicitation for a surname-related product was sent by a relative of the solicitee; (2) a relative of a solicitee was involved in preparing a surname-related publication; or that (3) a relative of a solicitee endorses a surname-related product." The Postal Service contended that the company's solicitations, which advertised books such as The World Book of [surname] and The [surname] Since the Civil War, violated the 1988 consent agreement, because they appeared to be letters from relatives of the addressees urging them to purchase a recently completed book on their family.
The Halbert"s ad that I received in 1996 was not signed by anyone claiming to have the name Eastman, and the letters "i.a." did not appear after the signature. It seemed that Numa and Halbert"s had accepted the court ruling. Letters sent to Canada and to England (sometimes under another Numa subsidiary name of Burkes) were still signed by someone claiming to have the same surname with the letters "i.a." I assume that is because the U.S. court decision only covers the United States, and Numa is free to do as they wish in other countries.
However? I have in my hands at this moment a Halbert"s ad received in California a couple of weeks ago. A member of CompuServe"s Genealogy Forums forwarded this advertisement to me as he knew I"d be interested. It is a brand-new ad for the "New World Book of Becks." It has all the same wording as I mentioned above except that the word BECK has been substituted for EASTMAN. What caught my eye is the signature:
Nancy J. Beck, i.a.
Numa and Halbert"s apparently have gone back to their old tricks in violation of the 1995 court order. Fictitious signatures followed by "i.a." are back in use.
- And still more on Halbert"s?
You know, Halbert"s business practices have really been good for me. If the postal authorities ever succeed in shutting Halbert"s down, I won"t have anything left to write about!
Halbert"s apparently has a new business partner: Texaco.
member in New Hampshire forwarded an ad he received this week from
A remarkable new book is about to be published and you, ___(insert addressee"s name here)___, are in it!
Do those words sound familiar? They should. I am skipping a few paragraphs here. But the advertisement continues?
The Texaco name represents the best products and service on the road today. And now, for select Texaco Credit Card customers, we offer an amazing new source of information about another important name - the (insert surname here) name!
I question the "amazing new source?" Texaco continues?.
The New World Book of __(surname)__ is an heirloom-quality edition you can pass on to your children, and share with the entire __(surname)__ family!
Published by Halbert"s for Texaco customers, and based on a search of over 170 million records worldwide, this amazing book provides information that can help you discover more about the __(surname)__ name than you"ve ever known before, including:
- How family names originated and what the distinguished __(surname)__ means?
- The development of family crests?..
- The __(surname)__ International Directory, the most extensive registry of households bearing the __(surname)__ today - with listings throughout the world.
The Texaco ad goes on and on with the same words that Halbert"s has used over the years. In fact, the ad is signed by "Sharon Taylor, Publisher, Halbert"s." At least she didn"t claim to have the same surname as the addressee of the advertisement and she didn"t use "i.a." after her name. The price from Texaco is exactly the same price that Halbert"s advertises directly: $34.50 plus $4.88 shipping and handling.
I am curious what Halbert"s liability is in this advertisement. Since it is on Texaco stationary and mailed to Texaco customers, who is responsible for compliance with the various court orders? Texaco? Texaco was never mentioned in the previous court orders, so probably they can do as they please. At least, for a while. But the ad is signed by a person claiming to be an employee of Halbert"s. Does that mean that Halbert"s is responsible for the ad and its claims? I will leave that to the lawyers to argue.
In the meantime, I have one bit of advice: Skip it. That"s a lot of money for a list extracted from telephone directories.
More on Halberts . . .
I can't thank you enough for the information posted about Halberts, Ohio. I just received a letter from Halberts today from my father. He knows I'm very interested in my family gen. and passed it in to me. Curiously it was addressed to my grandfather who died in 1980. That made me suspicious but the 'breathless prose' you described got me hooked and I was interested regardless. I decided to be responsible and entered 'Halberts' on the Looksmart search engine, which is where I came across your page.
The letter is exactly as you described, it was signed by Sharon Taylor and touted a 'one of a kind' book 'custom made to order'. What really made me suspicious was that there was no price information anywhere on the letter or reservation form. A really sneaky business practice if ever I saw one.
Again, thank you for the info. I would have made a big mistake as I was prepared to 'reserve' one of these books for several family members who share my interest.
Halbert's 3687 Ira Road P O Box 5000 Bath, OH 44210 3 February 1999
I represent the Storrer family WORLDWIDE. I am in receipt of your latest mailing regarding the American family Storrer.
Storrer's take their family name quite seriously. We are a worldwide family, not limited to America, with a legal coat-of-arms usable by our family only. There are Storrers in Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, England, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uraguay who are known to our central registry. Your claim of 149 Storrers, 122 in the United States alone, is laughabale, for we have 287 German/Swiss families alone, and 187 in the United States, and many others in the nations listed.
We take it as an insult to mis-represent our family. Your "No direct genealogical connection to your family or to your ancestry is implied or intended" does not satisfy us, and I doubt that the federal Postmaster General will think it so.
Several world governments limit the dissemination of information on families, even when from public sources such as online telephone directories, and allow us, in their name, to instigate law suits where the privacy of their citizens is violated. As your listing of Storrers falls so significantly short of the actual numbers in the U S and/or the world, perhaps you have not violated the laws of these nations. On the other hand, the Storrer web site will necessarily carry a notice to Storrers that anyone who purchases your publication is, by your own statement, unlikely to find anything that is not in our documents, which currently links 6684 Storrers and their relatives, and carries information on nearly 3000 others in the process of being linked.
This is hardly the first time that you have been warned by us against misuse of the federal mails to distribute materials purporting to offer the Storrer family specific benefits. We suggest that any orders that you may receive have their checks returned uncashed and that you stop all efforts to sell your "A Celebration of American Storrers."
William Allin Storrer