Anecdotal occurrence data (unverifiable observations of organisms or their sign) and inconclusive physical data are often used to assess the current and historical ranges of rare or elusive species. However, the use of such data for species conservation can lead to large errors of omission and commission, which can influence the allocation of limited funds and the efficacy of subsequent conservation efforts. We present three examples of biological misunderstandings, all of them with significant conservation implications, that resulted from the acceptance of anecdotal observations as empirical evidence. To avoid such errors, we recommend that a priori standards constrain the acceptance of occurrence data, with more stringent standards applied to the data for rare species. Because data standards are likely to be taxon specific, professional societies should develop specific evidentiary standards to use when assessing occurrence data for their taxa of interest.