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Text of injunction against Halbert's Publishing Company

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Halbert's, Inc., of Bath, Ohio, a mail order firm that markets surname products, has agreed to the provisions of a cease and desist order issued by the United States Postal Service (USPS) in November 1995. "Halbert's " "Family Book Offer," and "Historic Book Offer" are trade names used by Numa Corporation of Akron, Ohio.

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 family name and the history of this family name

Representing that a book contains information about someone's forebears and their emigration from Europe

Representing that a book contains information about the heraldry and family crest of a particular family

Representing that a book explains how a particular family got its surname Representing that a book explains why someone's forebears immigrated to the New World (the United States, Canada, and Australia)

Representing that a book explains why persons with a particular surname immigrated to the New World

Representing that a book is the result of research through numerous sources by themselves, or someone acting in their behalf, to compile information on persons with the addressee's surname who immigrated to the New World

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.][1]

  1. http://goldstraw.org.uk/scam.html

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