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ASA Adjudication on Finders Genealogists Ltd

Finders Genealogists Ltd t/a heirhuntersuk.co.uk

6–8 Vestry Street
London
N1 7RE

Date:

1 February 2012

Media:

Internet (on own site)

Sector:

Business

Number of complaints:

1

Complaint Ref:

A11-167679

Ad

Claims on www.heirhuntersuk.co.uk, seen on 3 August 2011. Text stated "LOOKING FOR PROFESSIONAL HEIR HUNTERS? BEWARE OF ROGUE TRADERS & SCAMS! Since the BBC Heir Hunters show began there have been many rogue traders setting up business, usually from home with no professional standing whatsoever. You should avoid becoming involved with any such companies as they probably do not have the ability, funds or knowledge to complete searches they undertake successfully. Some claim to 'undercut' any percentage fee contracts, others claim to be running an 'association' on behalf of heir-hunters, but none of these have any quality control, professional standards or qualifications and could leave potential beneficiaries embroiled in years of delay and legal issues, costing far more than they may believe they are 'saving' by using such rogue companies. They may charge hidden costs or extras that the true professional would not and their research may leave estates vulnerable to legal claims and court proceedings if they do not complete research to the required standard ...".

Issue

The Heir Hunters Association challenged whether the ad:

1. misleadingly implied competitors to Finders Genealogists Ltd were unprofessional, unqualified or operating illegally;

2. misleadingly implied there were qualifications for "heir hunting", when the complainant believed there were no such qualifications; and

3. unfairly denigrated the Heir Hunters Association, because they believed they were the only association for heir hunters.

CAP Code (Edition 12)

Response

1. Finders Genealogists Ltd (Finders) said they did not believe the ad implied that genuine competitors were unprofessional, unqualified or operating illegally, stating that they had not used the word "competitor". They said the ad simply stated what consumers should look out for.

2. Finders said the Heir Hunters Association (HHA) had misread the ad, and said the ad referred to professional qualifications not heir hunting qualifications. They said the ad aimed to inform the public that there were qualifications that indicated a company or individual was genuine, such as Companies House and VAT registration, data protection registration, Financial Services Authority registration, compliance with ISO standards, a consumer credit licence and registered trademarks.

Finders said in addition to that, 45 institutions offered courses in genealogy that lead to qualifications, and also listed five website links which they said offered personal accreditation and had qualification criteria to join.

3. Finders named three genealogy associations which they said were well established, and said the existence of those associations showed the ad did not refer specifically to the complainant.

Assessment

1. Upheld

The ASA noted that Finders had not used the word "competitor" in the ad, but considered the ad was clearly referring to companies in a similar line of work to Finders, and who would therefore be competitors to Finders. We considered we had not seen evidence that competitors to Finders were unprofessional, unqualified or operated illegally, and therefore concluded the ad was misleading on that point.

On this point the claims breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.42 (Imitation and denigration).

2. Upheld

We considered that in the context of the ad, readers would infer that "professional standards or qualifications" related to genealogy standards or qualifications, and not to the types of business registrations that Finders had identified. We considered that while those business registrations might help assure a consumer that a company was genuine, they were not professional standards or qualifications.

We noted that while Finders were able to identify a large number of institutions that offered short courses in genealogy, those courses did not lead to qualifications in genealogy. We also noted that of the five links provided, two were general online expert witness directories so were not accreditations, while the other three were genealogy associations whose websites showed they did not have qualification criteria to become a member.

Because we considered that the ad implied there were professional qualifications available in genealogy when we understood there were not, we concluded the ad was misleading.

On this point the claims breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.42 (Imitation and denigration).

3. Not upheld

We noted that no individual companies, including the HHA, were specifically named in the ad. We noted that Finders had identified three genealogy associations, and that a Google search showed there were more than those three operating in the UK. We therefore did not consider that readers would specifically identify the HHA or any other individual companies from the ad or infer that the claims were about them. We considered that the claims in the ad could not be said to refer specifically to the HHA, and concluded that the ad did not unfairly denigrate the HHA.

We investigated the claims under CAP Code (Edition 12) rule 3.42 (Imitation and denigration) but did not find them in breach.

Action

The claims in the ad must not appear again in their current form.

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