Posted by: vip | July 20, 2009

Security Concerns about online family trees

Many people have expressed concern with security as their identities become available on the internet on online family trees. Their concerns are valid, and there is certainly a chance some hacker is going to see a name with its entire family tree and hatch a scheme to transfer funds, apply for credit cards, etc. from the information. Long story short, these fears can happen.

Still, I often wonder why you see biographies of many celebrities and very rich people, with or without their approval, splattered all over the internet. Even details like where they went to school and the inclusive dates are right out there.  Not to mention the social networks Friendster, Multiply, Facebook.  But what’s really important that does not appear in a bio is of course one’s bank and account number.  Certainly, neither does that information appear in your typical family tree.  But that should have been the first step–the one giant step so to speak.

Bank Accounts IDs.  Banks usually ask an account holder to give an additional identification that’s supposedly quite difficult for another person to dig up.  For some time, it was one’s mother’s maiden name.  Many responded to their banks that this was such a lame ID because mothers’ maiden names appear in almost any application form—some licenses, credit, school records, etc. So much so that a family tree is really the farthest thing one can think of to get a maiden name.  They can sooner get that from rummaging through discarded paperwork in your own garbage cans. No one keeping a diary or journal–no published autobiography–ever did not give out one’s mother’s maiden name.

I would think most identity thefts are opportunity thefts in that the opportunity presents itself for this sort of thing, rather than a thief marks a particular individual.  Most thefts do take the form of outright pilferage of credit cards in transit. Even chancing upon your name in a family tree, the thief has got to know you beforehand to mark and target you. Otherwise, how would he know that if he searched you even more closely, he’s not gonna end up on the FBI screen himself–people trying to establish contact with you–because your record is even longer than his!LOL

Remedies. Anyway, the webpage features of all the family tree applications I know do not publish the names of living persons in the tree.  Only the very older versions still do that. The individual is just identified as Living Person, and most times his or her sex is not even mentioned.  Some programs also automatically classify all individuals born before a certain year (1900 or, say, a hundred years before the current) as deceased and consequently everyone born after it as living and thus appear only as Living Persons.

And back to banks, as secondary identification, many banks are now using more intimate details like, say, the name of one’s first or favorite pet, first grade teacher, hospital where one was born, first boy/girlfriend—anything that is not found in regular data forms. If a bank still asks for your mother’s maiden name—and you’re not smart enough to think up (or too sentimental not to) giving a wrong maiden name yourself—drop that bank.  That should be so much less demanding on the psyche than dropping one’s family tree.

But many hackers have decidedly more smarts than our own Carcar family DNA allotted for us and many of them have even been so successful at coaxing out people’s PIN to an ATM–just pure talking them into disclosing it.  So what’s a maiden name or two?



  1. I’m currently building the Sarmiento Family tree that starts with Antonio Sarmiento and Dorotea Santa Maria, the parents of Roman Sarmiento (the owner of the famous Tisà home in Carcar) on Could you please let me know if you know of any onlne family trees that include the families of Carcar?

    • a cousin submitted our yap family tree to myfamily. there is a paraz and probably simporios family tree although I can’t recall right off which application they’re on. I suppose there would be a number using geni also. and even more on the facebook application. our experience with the yap tree is that sometimes excerpts appear in search results and a number did not like their names and dates coming out. btw, where did you get the dorotea santa maria name from? i mean, which record because those i saw gave only dorotea maria although from the general inconsistencies of the period, i would not be surprised.

  2. I am planning to send you the Sarmiento Family Tree, but I’m removing living people so there’s no discomfort. 🙂 It was prepared by my aunt, Judith Nacua, MD of Toronto, Canada. I will ask her where she got the names from.

  3. my mother is bernardina remocaldo she is from car car i want to know about her family bec. she is morethan 5o years not going home

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