This CRI Genetics report seems odd. How about a refund?

It might be easy to dismiss Martha Labell’s refund request for her CRI Genetics report as a one-off — a client unhappy with the results of her DNA test. But there’s more — much more — to this case.

DNA testing is a billion-dollar business but there’s practically zero accountability. I mean, who do you turn to when your Ancestry.com results don’t match up with your 23andme results?

Look at the terms and conditions for these testing services, and your result is clear: They have your money. You have no recourse.

Labell’s story is a case in point. She contacted CRI, a company that bills itself as “an advanced team of geneticists, anthropologists, and social scientists, who work together to deliver you the most accurate estimation of your ancestry possible.” Like some, she wanted to know about her ancestry, and the $87 price tag seemed like a small price to pay for the answers.

Then she received her report. It wasn’t at all what she expected.

“I do not feel that the report is at all relevant to me and does not represent a reasonable or true report that one might expect,” she says. “It gives no reasonable information as advertised regarding ancestry and family history.”

She’s not alone

As someone who has taken every major commercially available DNA test — I’ve been researching a story on DNA travel — I share her confusion.

My results varied widely. Some suggested Italian and Spanish ancestry; others said no, my ancestors were Greek and Ukrainian. One test suggested I was part Ashkenazi Jewish; others indicated I was 98 percent European with one or two percent African heritage.

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I’m a mutt. Yeah, there’s the word I was looking for: American.

There’s so much confusion and misinformation about DNA kits, it’s hard to know where to start.

CRI promises it’s different. It’s the only DNA testing service that offers a “guarantee.”

We’re so confident in the efficiency our analysis that we offer a unique Efficiency Guarantee: If we can’t get you your reports within 8 weeks, you get your money back! We are the only genealogical DNA testing service that offers an Efficiency Guarantee.

But the guarantee only applies to timeliness of its reports. As to the accuracy of CRI’s testing, here’s what it has to say — a disclosure buried at the bottom of the page in a fly-out menu:

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to provide a 100% correct evaluation of your ancestry without having DNA samples from every ancestor going back 200,000 years.

However, we are able to provide a research-grade estimation of your BioGeographical Ancestry.

Our approach to genealogical testing is much like predicting the weather: it’s not possible to be 100% correct all the time, but we can at least be mostly correct most of the time by observing patterns, knowing history, and using statistics.

The weather?

I’m surprised my DNA tests didn’t show part space alien.

Her results

Labell’s results were vague, providing little of the analysis she was expecting. They also didn’t make sense to her.

“The report included areas of the world that are absolutely not possible to trace, giving me great pause that there is any truth to this report or any insight into my background,” she says. “When I looked at various companies to give me an idea of my ancestral geographic background, I chose CRI because of its claim for being precise.”

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To which CRI responded:

We trace down DNA all the way to Mitochondrial Eve and Y-chromosomal Adam about a 100K years… give or take a few thousand years.

We provide accurate results. However, we are not able to guarantee direct relationships with people as many may share the same ancestral roots while not being directly related.

But we deeply regret that still, you were not satisfied with the result.

CRI denied her request for a refund, saying its test fees are nonrefundable.

“I suspect this company is fraudulent,” says Labell. “They do not have the Better Business Bureau’s approval.”

Sigh. The Better Business Bureau. Don’t even get me started, Martha.

I’ll just link to the BBB page on CRI and let you make up your mind about how effective the BBB has been at stopping this company.

Well, at least we tried

My advocacy team decided to try where others failed. We contacted CRI and, would you believe, it gave us the same answer.

“She was asking for a refund,” a representative told my advocate. “But unfortunately, the report has been generated. And as for our company policy, we only issue a refund for customers who did not get their results within the given time frame.”

Vague test results. Bad reviews. Intransigent customer service. I’ll let you do the math on this one, my friends. To me, it sounds like three strikes and CRI is out.

Is CRI Genetics a scam?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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