You get a late-night phone call from a person claiming to be police detective telling you that you’re out of compliance and that a warrant has been issued for your arrest. Immediately, your brain is overwhelmed with a flurry of adrenaline-fueled questions. You’re so busy thinking, “how can that be possible?” or “why is this happening?” that it’s difficult to rationally interpret what is happening in real-time.

Fact is, the caller is most likely a scammer whose mission is to frighten you into doing one of three things. He may want you to send him money in the form of a stored-value card or code. The most common forms of payment the scammers desire is Google Play, Apple Music, or Amazon gift cards. Or, he may instruct you to transfer a specific dollar amount to him by way of Pay Pal, Venmo, or Google Pay. On the rare occasion that the scammer is someone local, he could actually be setting you up to be mugged when you “come down to the station” or to have your home burglarized while you’re off on a wild goose chase.

A significant number of people on the registry have thusly been frightened into giving the scammers exactly what was demanded. Fortunately, most of the people who are targeted by this scam become suspicious at some point and make a call to the real cops. That’s when they learn that there is no “Detective So-and-So” employed there, there is no arrest warrant and no, the police aren’t very interested in investigating this particular crime.

We will probably never know exactly how many registrants have been victimized this way because, like many victims of scams, they are ashamed and embarrassed at having been fooled. Even more compelling is their entirely understandable fear that they could end up one again featured in the local news media, and not in a good way.

In the immediate aftermath of this fear, doubt, confusion, and anger comes a still, small voice in the back of your mind asking a simple yet troubling question: How did they get my telephone number?

Your public registry listing does not display your phone number. That much you know. You’ve checked. Who hasn’t? In many states, the agencies administering the registry database never even ask for your telephone number. So, the question remains and eventually starts to eat at you.

questionmarkHow did they get my number? It could be a mobile phone, or an unlisted number, or even a phone account in a spouse’s name. How are these scammers able to get access to a phone number that, as fa as you know, not even the police have access to?

The answer is absurdly simple, really. The scammers cough up the $15 a month subscription fee for an online background check service like Intellius, BeenVerified, or PeopleFinder. They then go down the list of people listed on the public sex offender registry and plug those names into the background check service’s website. thumb-downThe service accesses multiple public records which include not only government sources, but also data that are sold by retailers, organizations, telemarketers, and even social media platforms like Facebook. Remember when they asked for your phone number in order to enhance their “security” features?

The website spits out a report that includes the names of all of your relatives and close associates, all of your known addresses for the past couple of decades, and yes, every phone number that is even remotely associated with you and members of your household. The scammers then simply call each of those numbers until – bingo! – you pick up the phone and say, “Yep, that’s me!”

For the scammer, it’s a little like fishing; just a matter of patience and perseverance. Eventually, someone will bite and, even if only one in a hundred falls for it, it becomes a profitable venture.

The good news is, there are steps you can take to make sure you won’t be targeted. By law, each of those background check websites is required to have an opt-out policy and procedure in place. When you opt out, they are required to take you out of their proprietary database. This won’t necessarily remove you from certain types of public records such as court documents or divorce records, but the great majority of their listings are not government documents and, besides, official government documents are highly unlikely to have your phone number listed on them.

Here are some quick tips on how to remove yourself from these websites:

  1. Use a computer. These websites do everything they can to hide the links and obscure the process, particularly to mobile users.
  2. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have to subscribe to one of these services before being able to opt out. You do not have to subscribe.
  3. Repeat the process using your nicknames, aliases, and even your family members’ names. We sometimes forget that we can easily be tracked by tracking our spouses, siblings, and children.
  4. Keep records. Typically, the process takes less than 48 hours to take effect. Be sure to go back and check to make sure you’ve been removed. If a second or third attempt also fails, you may need to send the company a written request to be removed.
  5. Do this every year or two. Just because you are removed today doesn’t mean you won’t end up back in one of these databases again at a later date.

Remember, it isn’t just the registry that is allowing you to be targeted by scammers. Looking you up on the registry is just the first step for them. To ensure you don’t become a future target of this scam and other scams as yet undreamed of, you should opt out of as many background check websites as possible.

For more detailed information, check out “Opt Out. Do it Now!