The Great DNA Test Scam: Adding Fake Black and Scandinavian DNA

in Tech by

Should you drunkenly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day or Oktoberfest? Can you brag about your ancestors having first-class seats on the Mayflower? Do you need to feel extra, extra bad about slavery? All these questions and more can be answered by sending a vial of your spit off to a company like Ancestry.com, 23andMe, or Living DNA …except they are now accused of being a sham.

Genetics experts from the University of Texas and the University of North Carolina have gone so far as to say that these companies are preying on people, because they don’t truly have the information they need to pinpoint your origins on a map, and that it’s not possible to trace unique ancestry that way. As they put it, “That’s the beauty of this scam. The companies aren’t scamming you. They’re not giving you fraudulent information. They are giving you data, real data, and allowing you to scam yourself.”

When Inside Edition had a set of triplets send their spit in to Ancestry.com and 23andMe, they got wildly different results from both services. Neither gave each triplet the same ancestry results — which, considering they all came from the same womb, is pretty weird.

Inside Edition’s Chief Investigative Correspondent Lisa Guerrero revealed the results to Erica McGraw and her sisters on the set of the TV programme The Doctors. She was joined by the show’s host, Dr. Travis Stork.

The sisters were all 99 percent European but the test from 23andMe also showed some surprising differences.

Nicole was 11 percent French and German but Erica was 22.3 percent. Their sister Jaclyn was in the middle at 18 percent. That is not a small gap. If you were off by 10 percent on a DNA test, you could technically be a mouse.

Apparently, all these pretty numbers mean nothing.

“I’m surprised,” Nicole said. “I’m surprised because we came from the same egg and DNA. How are our ancestries different?”

DNA test company staff admitted to having changed people’s results,  “Since we couldn’t do anything to the results (and we wanted to), what we did was add ‘< 1 percent’ to each African category of ethnicity. That way we weren’t lying, and they would both be wondering how much under a percentage point was. We always try to round to the nearest number because we sometimes hear about percentage points, but for them, we leave it open to whether it’s a one or a zero.”

It’s a con to get people to pay for a second test. “Unless they got another test, that was going to bother them. Maybe they weren’t 100 percent Caucasian. I mean, they were, according to the results, but this way it leaves it open, and they’ll always be wondering.”

They claim this was well-intentioned. “If the results only added up to 99.5 percent, we’d say, ‘Let’s stick that 0.5 percent under Scandinavian.’ Other times, when we ask their family name (for women, their maiden name), and we see what country that last name came from, we’ll add it there, because they’ll be more proud of that heritage more often than not.”

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