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It used to be that family legends about background and heritage had to stay legendary. But the popularity of genetic test kits have made them a hot topic around the Thanksgiving table. A proposed FTC and California settlement with CRI Genetics reminds companies in this burgeoning sector that their claims are covered by established federal and state truth-in advertising standards. What’s more, the case reinforces key principles relevant to any advertiser about product reviews and the allegedly deceptive use of digital dark patterns.

California-based CRI Genetics promotes its DNA test kits with claims about their ability to provide consumers with information about their genetic ancestry and potential health traits and conditions. The company touted its “advanced team of Geneticists, Anthropologists, and Social Scientists, who work together to deliver you the most accurate estimation of your ancestry possible.” CRI Genetics further highlighted the purported accuracy of its results with advertising promises like this:

  • “The latest genetic reading equipment, our patented DNA analysis software, along with our experience and techniques allow us to achieve accuracy greater than 99.9%.”
  • “Know exactly where your DNA comes from with 90%+ accuracy . . .”
  • “Our Advanced Ancestry Timeline takes you back 50+ generations, to find out exactly WHEN and WHERE your ancestors are from.”

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CRI Genetics complaint exhibits

But according to the FTC and California, the company’s claims that it offers the most accurate and detailed DNA ancestry tests and reports on the market, that it can show consumers’ ancestry breakdown with an accuracy rate of over 90%, and that it can tell consumers exactly where their ancestors came from going back more than 50 generations were false or misleading. The complaint also alleges the company falsely claimed to have patented an algorithm for its genetic matching process. What about the glowing consumer testimonials that CRI Genetics included on its website and in social media? According to the complaint, some of them “were completely fabricated.”

The FTC and California say CRI’s deception didn’t end there. From 2017 to February 2021, the company bought search ads from Google and Bing for terms like “DNA testing,” “genetic testing,” “Ancestry DNA,” or “23andMe.” Consumers who clicked on those links were taken to a website with the name “Genetics Digest.” The site represented that it was an independent source of information for DNA testing, offering “unbiased product reviews for consumers looking to purchase anything related to the field of genetics.” In evaluating kits on the market, Genetics Digest’s “#1 Top DNA Test” was CRI Genetics, which purportedly received a star rating of 4.9 out of 5 – substantially higher than its competitors, who were mentioned by name on the Genetics Digest website. What the FTC and California say wasn’t clearly disclosed to consumers was that the site – which supposedly offered “independent reviews and evaluations” – was actually owned and operated by CRI Genetics.

The complaint makes similar allegations about a website called buyerranking.com. Claiming that its “mission” is to “empower” consumers with “confidence” to get “the best bang for your buck,” the site named CRI Genetics “Top Recommended DNA Testing Service” – without clearly disclosing that CRI Genetics owned that site, too.

Even if consumers wanted to buy a product from CRI Genetics, the company allegedly forced them to navigate a tangle of pop-ups and add-ons – characterized as “Special Rewards” the consumer had been “chosen” to receive – all designed to squeeze more cash out of prospective purchasers. What about just clicking the back button to escape CRI’s marketing maze? The defendant warned consumers not to do that: “ Please do not hit the back button as you cannot get back to this page once you leave.” If consumers initially chose an offer but changed their mind, the defendant warned them “not [to] hit the ‘Back’ button as it can lead to a multiple charge on your card.” You’ll want to read the complaint for more exhausting specifics, but it boils down to the allegation that the company “used numerous deceptive marketing techniques, known as ‘dark patterns,’ to push consumers into purchasing additional products and services.”

After learning about the FTC’s investigation, the defendant revised portions of its ordering process, but consumers still had to input their personal and payment information before going through CRI’s marketing gauntlet. As the complaint alleges, “The website ordering page still did not disclose that when consumers entered their payment information that they would be charged immediately for each item selected for purchase and that each order would be final.”

The complaint charges CRI with multiple violations of the FTC Act and with “untrue or misleading advertising” and “unlawful, unfair, and/or fraudulent business practices” under California law. The proposed order will prohibit a wide variety of misrepresentations and omissions and require the company to disclose to consumers the total costs they will be charged, when charges will occur, and whether they will be able to confirm, edit, or delete products and services before being charged. Under the terms of the proposed settlement, CRI also must clearly tell consumers the purposes for which the company will use or share their DNA information and get their affirmative express consent. In addition, the defendant must require direct notification to consumers about the FTC’s and California’s allegations and delete information collected from customers who received refunds if they request it. The settlement with California includes a $700,000 civil penalty.

What can other companies take from the action in this case?

Established truth-in-advertising standards apply to home genetics testing companies lock, stock, and double helix. Your market sector may be new, but you’re still responsible for complying with well-settled consumer protection principles. That includes having appropriate substantiation to support all objective claims, including representations that your product is superior to its competitors. This isn’t the first case challenging the practices of genetic testing companies, so know that law enforcement eyes are on you.

Disguised selfie sites and testi-phony-als are flat-out illegal. Decades of FTC and state cases clearly establish that bogus review sites and made-up endorsements violate the law. Full stop. The FTC’s Endorsements, Influencers, and Reviews site features resources that explain the fundamentals in to-the-point language. 

Don’t force consumers through a “grabby-rinth” of pop-ups and add-ons in an illegal effort to charge them more without their consent. Too many companies complicate the purchase process with a maze of confusing offers designed to squeeze more money out of customers. The FTC, California agencies, and other law enforcers have expressed their commitment to shutting down deceptive dark patterns.  Heed those warnings.

The FTC also has a general reminder for all companies, especially those in the growing genetics testing field. As the FTC’s Policy Statement on Biometric Information makes clear, collecting sensitive biometric data comes with enhanced obligations. Clearly explain how you intend to use or retain sensitive biometric information before collecting it from consumers. Failure to honor that obligation may result in a requirement to destroy or delete data and roll back algorithms trained on the information. 
 

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Stacey
November 21, 2023

How do I get my money back???

Gary David Kasten
December 05, 2023

In reply to by Stacey

I used there service a few years back and was very disappointed that they really didn’t provide me with the information I was looking for.

Mikki
January 31, 2024

In reply to by Desmond Halforty

I can’t believe that they own the site that said they are the number 1 dna testing company… that’s what really made me buy it.. and my results were COMPLETELY off! How upsetting … wish I never did it.

How will everyone who purchased a test kit be compensated? I would really like a refund for this outrageous report I received.

Phillip Mulvaney
December 20, 2023

In reply to by Stacey

My DNA didn't match with my family member at all. I did take a new DNA test with another company and it match up with my friends .

Tamatha Whitaker
November 22, 2023

Yes! I'd like to know how to get my money back as well. I live in Arkansas. Was gilted for about $600 total from CRI Genetics. Did not get everything I paid for either.

K
November 22, 2023

This is scary and wrong on multiple levels. As a small biz owner I am constantly thinking of ways to make a website that is easier to navigate and clearly states what is being ordered for what price who wants to have to deal with chargebacks and disputes. What happened to the day when a business supplied a valuable service to consumers in exchange for a fair price? I think as voice cloning is pushing us towards biometric authentication this is so scary that a company can charge a consumer with shady practices and services they could then turn around and use that info collected to steal from you again!!!! I hope these guys are made a huge example of and also if the government is storing these same biometric data they should be reprimanded just as private biz

Ashley
February 26, 2024

In reply to by K

Actually just almost fell for it too. Thought it sounded a whole lot better then the Ancestry brand test I just bought. So glad I found this site! It’s nice to see that they give us vital information as well as let us comment so we can see the real reviews and experiences. Never trust anything you see on the internet clearly this is a prime example!

Sourabh Sagar
November 28, 2023

Thank you for shedding light on the important FTC and California settlement with CRI Genetics. It serves as a crucial reminder for companies in the genetic testing sector to adhere to truth-in-advertising standards. Transparency and accuracy are paramount when providing information about genetic ancestry and health traits. The case underscores the significance of genuine product claims and the consequences of deceptive practices, from fabricated testimonials to the use of disguised review sites. The emphasis on fair business practices, clear disclosure of ownership, and the prevention of manipulative marketing tactics is a welcome stance in protecting consumers. This FTC action not only upholds established consumer protection principles but also sends a clear message to the burgeoning genetics testing industry to prioritize ethical conduct and respect for consumer rights. Kudos to the FTC and California for their commitment to ensuring fairness and transparency in this rapidly evolving field!

Lorraine
December 14, 2023

In reply to by Michelle

I did a second test cause I was told some results couldn’t be completed because my original test was years old and there are new updated tests. My results for genealogy were totally different second test. It’s as if it’s a different person’s test!!! Now I don’t believe anything!!!

Robert Boklund
December 20, 2023

So when the findings of this case are "boiled down", exactly how much of CRI Genetics analyses are truly accurate? Some of it ??? None of it ??? I am much more bothered that I may have been given false results, than whether they overcharged me a little here or there. Is what CRI sent me real or false junk??? What in the recent or long term analyses us accurate or pure malarky??? I really want to know...

Lynne Brown
December 20, 2023

I did not agree to place my order, with CRI, a few years ago. I gave my payment information and then didn’t approve the purchase. I was comparing companies. I decided to with 23&Me.
I was surprised to find that CRI had processed my payment. I didn’t call them because they claimed to be more accurate than others. I wanted the DNA relative matches that the other company provided but thought CRI would give me better health information.
Is it still possible for me to obtain a refund. How do I go about doing that? I spent over $200!

Waldo DeRat
December 21, 2023

All I hear is crickets!
Who gets the money, lawyers, Newson?

Lynn
December 20, 2023

I also would like to get my money back.

Debbe
December 20, 2023

Yes, how do we get our money back?

Joseph Barry Garner
January 02, 2024

Thank you, thank you for this article ! I had previously read CRI genetics assessment of the other firms, and they put all the others down !

Kristine Elliott
January 02, 2024

Who do we contact in order to get our compensation?? I paid for myself, my dad, my step son and my sister to have theirs done!

Jesse Turner
January 08, 2024

I receive weekly if not daily add on suggestions.
No printed report.
Very disappointed.

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