Why do people fall for imposter scams? Why do people give away money to strangers wanting their money, for reasons which, if deliberately considered, will always prove to be phony? One reason – the imposter spun a tale which made the victim afraid. So afraid they needed to act immediately, without thinking, without asking for advice, without deliberate consideration.

Some groups of people are at much greater risk of crooks manipulating their fears than others. One such group we might never consider at risk of imposter scams are sex offenders. The risk to this group was demonstrated around New Year’s holiday in 2020. A rural DeWitt man, a registered sex offender, received a phone call from someone posing as a Clinton County deputy. The caller alerted the sex offender of a warrant issued for his immediate arrest, because the offender failed to submit DNA. The caller demanded the offender buy prepaid Vanilla debit cards and load $1,500 on them, or face immediate arrest. This fabrication worked. The offender, wanting to avoid trouble, did as ordered. He bought the cards, loaded the money, and provided the “deputy” with the serial numbers, which allowed the money to get moved off the cards.

We learned later that two other Clinton County registered sex offenders got the same call, but were waiting until after the holiday to check in on this threat.

This scam targeted a miniscule segment of the population (89 offenders registered in Clinton County), but the scammers targeted a segment that must follow strict regulations on registering their residence, changing addresses, and where they can live. The sex offender registry is maintained by the sheriff’s office. It is public record, available on the internet, easy for anyone to find who is registered and where they live. If an offender violates one of these restrictions, they are likely to get arrested by a deputy. So when an imposter claiming to be law enforcement threatens arrest to a sex offender, that’s a pretty realistic sounding threat.

You don’t have to be on the sex offender registry to be susceptible to fear-induced response to a scam. Whose ears don’t perk up just a little when you hear a voice mail from Social Security or the Internal Revenue Service? Or when you receive a call from a sobbing grandchild, begging to get bonded out of a horrible jail? Or a call from a phony payday loan collector threatening to file fraud charges? Those are all examples of successful scams working the fear angle to manipulate us into parting with money.

What’s the antidote to this kind of scam? I can’t predict what kind of fraud someone will aim at you because you fit into a very large demographic group, like Social Security beneficiaries, or a tiny group, like registered offenders. But if the message provokes fear and someone wants money immediately – you know it’s a scam. Slow down and talk to someone you trust before you do anything else.


Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office at 242-9211, Ext. 4433, or email me at randymeier@gapa911.us

Randy Meier is the director of Seniors vs. Crime.