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Kaua‘i police teaches kupuna to avoid digital scams

LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i Police Department white collar detective Michael Nii met with retired members of the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association on Wednesday to discuss digital scams, how to prevent becoming a victim, and what to do in the event of a scam.

Nii told the audience that most of these scams are what are called phishing scams — where scammers pretend to be a reputable company in order to convince people to reveal personal information.

“What they do is they dial up hundreds of phone calls at a time. And as everybody’s witnessed or experienced, that robot comes on and talks to them — ‘There’s a problem with your Medicare’ or ‘I have information about your Medicare,’ what have you,” he said.

“So people who have legitimate issues with Medicare, especially in your age, that’s when they click a button. On the other end, that’s when the scammer’s like, ‘OK, I set the bait out and want to see who bites.’ Whoever bites, then a live person comes on and they start giving you the runaround.”

One of the more common phishing methods Nii sees involves scammers taking on fake identities online. Under these identities, the scammer pretends to be romantically interested in the victim.

“What these scammers do is they prey on your emotion of loneliness,” Nii said. “They’ll call you, they’ll be friendly — they won’t ask for money upfront. They’ll gain your trust. Eventually, three months down the road, he says, ‘Hey, I want to come and meet you. I’ll come to the island, but I don’t have any money. Can you send me $2,000 for a plane ticket?’”

When the fictional love interest doesn’t show up, Nii said, the scammer will often come up with an excuse in an attempt to continue the scam.

“Usually the case is, ‘I got arrested,’ or ‘I got stopped by immigration,’ or ‘I got stuck and I need another $2,000 to come over.’”

On the other end, Nii noted many scammers intimidate their victims into compliance by pretending to represent a government agency.

Typically in these scams, the scammer claims the victim’s Social Security number has been involved in criminal activity. The scammer then threatens to freeze the victim’s financial accounts and send a warrant of arrest if the victim doesn’t send a certain amount of money in gift cards.

“If any scammer tells you to go to the store, buy a gift card and read them the numbers, it’s a scam,” Nii said. “Right off the bat. No law enforcement agency will ever ask you to send money in lieu of an arrest.”

Another common method Nii sees involves scammers pretending to be e-commerce company Amazon. In these scams, victims receive a text message or email stating that their Amazon order has failed and redirecting the victim to the scammer’s phone number.

“These guys are very clever. They’ll ask you questions and elicit information from you without you even knowing. They’ll get your name. They’ll get where you bank. They’ll get the account number — all they need is an account number, because you can do a Google search and get the routing number online for your particular bank,” Nii said.

“They’ll ask you, ‘Do you have online banking?’ or they’ll get enough information that they’ll create an online banking account with your information and lock you out. And they will take monies from there.”

Lieutenant Kennison Nagahisa — assigned to KPD’s Investigative Services Bureau — noted this method had become so prevalent, even he had nearly fallen victim to it.

“Even myself as a police officer opened an email thinking, ‘Yeah, something’s wrong with my order,’” he said. “So it just shows that it got so sophisticated, even I could get fooled.”

Nii stressed that digital scams aren’t limited to calls, texts and emails, though. An growing method of scams involves scammers gaining access to individuals’ social media accounts. Once they’ve gained access, the scammer will pretend to be that individual, claiming they’ve made incredibly quick, successful investments.

“They say, “Hey look, I invested so much money and I got so much money back,’” Nii said. “‘I invested $500, I got $2,000 back.’ So once you’ve contacted him, ‘I’m interested, tell me more about it,’ (they say) ‘Oh, well send me $500 through Venmo, Cash App, Zelle — online payment platforms.’”

In any situation where you feel you might be getting scammed, Nii recommends reaching out through the company or individual’s official contact and seeing if they’ve actually reached out.

“Do your own research from your iPad or your computer to get the number to that location, and vet them yourself,” Nii said. “Ask questions — ‘Hey, I received a call. Are you guys trying to contact me?’”

Additionally, Nagahisa encourages anyone worried they may be getting involved in a scam to call police dispatch at 808-411-1711.

“What’s a five minute conversation with a police officer, right?” Nagahisa said. “It’s nothing, and it could save you thousands of dollars, if not your identity.”

To check for suspicious financial activity, Nii recommends checking your credit once a year.

“From there, you can monitor to see if your personal information that’s used to get loans and get credit has been used,” Nii said. “You can see fraudulent accounts, and then you can go and report it to the credit bureaus.”

Nii urges those who find their finances compromised to file a police report and contact their bank immediately.

“If there’s recurring payments, what they’ll do is they’ll switch it off,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt to notify them and just say, ‘This has happened to me. I filed a police report. This much money was taken.’”

Nii added that victims of identity theft can file a report with the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov, and that victims of cybercrime can file a report to the FBI at IC3.gov.

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Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-245-0427 or jhealy@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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