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How to keep the bad apples out of your family tree

DNA kits are all the rage today for people trying to piece together their medical history or those just wanting to know how much of their genetic code dates to the Neanderthals.

However, there are some precautions that can help protect the privacy of sensitive information.

“The (DNA) data can be very enlightening personally, but a major concern for consumers should be who else could have access to information about your heritage and your health,” says the Federal Trade Commission.

A number of companies sell DNA test kits, most of which require nothing more than a swab of the cheek, “but price and performance are only two of the comparisons you should draw before making a purchase,” the FTC said.

Before selecting a vendor, thoroughly review policies on privacy. A company’s website should reveal what the company does with people’s personal data.

“Rather than just clicking `I accept,’ take the time to understand how your health, genetic, and other sensitive information will be used and shared,” the FTC says. “Hold off on buying a kit until you have a clear picture of the company’s practices.”

In most cases, you will be given options on how public your results will be. In other words, will your profile be available to others online and can other users send you personal messages? Do you want to share your information to help companies create more targeted drugs by harnessing genetic data?

“A company’s out-of-the-box defaults often aren’t the most private options, so it’s unwise simply to accept a site’s automatic settings,” the FTC says. “A more prudent approach to consider is to select more protective options initially and revisit your choices once you’ve become familiar with how the site operates.”

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, has called on the Federal Trade Commission to make sure privacy policies for DNA kits are clear and fair for consumers.

“I don’t think that this industry is nefarious, it is just that they are brand new and they need safeguards,” he said.

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It’s end-of-year giving time, and the state Attorney General’s Office has announced a “compliance sweep” on charities that have failed to properly register in New Mexico.

The effort is aimed at providing notice to charitites that aren’t registered so they can comply voluntarily before the office takes legal action, according to a news release.

Under the Charitable Solicitations Act, tax-exempt organizations that serve a charitable purpose must register and provide annual reports. New Mexico residents can look at the filings by going here:

Be aware, though, that there are several reasons your search might come up empty. It could be that the organization’s legal name is different from the one used in the solicitation or that is simply not required to register with the AG. The agency says people can send an email to to get help on locating information.

Other sources for checking a group’s legitimacy is the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance at; Charity Navigator,; Charity Watch,; or GuideStar,

Here are some general tips:

• Don’t give to any individual or group that wants its donation wired or paid by cash or gift card.

• Confirm the exact name of the charity and do some research, especially when donating for the first time. Search for the name of the charity, plus the word “complaint” or “scam.” The exact name is important; scammers try to confuse people by conjuring up a name that’s very similar to a legitimate organization.

• Never click on links or open attachments in e-mails, even if they appear to be from a charity. You could unknowingly install malware on your computer or be taken to a look-alike website that’s bogus.

Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210.