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KPD: ‘Alarming’ rise in scam thefts

LIHU‘E — As Honolulu experiences a wave of sheriff impersonator phone scams, Kaua‘i is dealing with its own rise in scam thefts.

In a report sent to the Police Commission, the Kaua‘i Police Department described a recent increase in scammers as “alarming.”

“We’ve been seeing a constant flow of victims reporting that they’re being scammed,” said KPD Investigative Services Bureau Assistant Chief Bryson Ponce. “It’s not just the elderly. It’s all ages.”

Recently, Ponce reported, local scammers have been posing as banks or the Publishers Clearing House via telephone in attempts to get account information from victims. Sometimes scammers will make a clone of a traditional email to request private info. Or they may utilize the title and escrow process to siphon funds.

“You got your gift card scams, your money mule scams, the IRS scam, the Social Security number scam,” said KPD Lt. Kennison Nagahisa. “And people buy it. I can see how easily you can get tricked.”

Nagahisa said these scams would often target people while they were at busy at work.

Last year, County of Kaua‘i residents reported more than 28 cases of scamming, amounting to roughly $327,000 in losses.

One recent case, Nagahisa said, cost a victim $80,000.

On O‘ahu, the state Department of Public Safety reported several people had recently turned themselves in at police stations on instructions from scammers impersonating sheriff’s deputies.

The scammers told victims to either purchase Visa gift cards or send money virtually to pay outstanding warrants, traffic citations or fines for missed jury duty. They then asked the victims to turn themselves in.

“Innocent people are being targeted. In at least two of the cases, people have made payments to these scammers in the sum of several hundred and even thousands of dollars,” said State Sheriff William Oku Jr. “The Sheriff Division is initiating criminal cases for each scam incident we are notified of, and we ask if anyone has a similar encounter to report it.”

The international nature of scam crimes makes it very hard for local police to investigate. Scam reports are often referred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“Recovering lost funds, arresting people that are out of state or out of country — it’s very difficult,” said Ponce. “Our strategy is education and prevention.”

The following are some tips to prevent being a victim of a scam:

• Do not answer calls, emails or texts from numbers you do not recognize;

• Vet the company and do an independent search for the specific company’s phone number to call them back and speak with a representative;

• Law enforcement will never call you and ask for money in lieu of being arrested;

• Be aware of payment methods. No legitimate company will ask for payments via reading gift cards numbers off the back of the card;

• Never give out personal information. If you suspect a scam, please call KPD at 808-241-1711 or visit kauai.gov/police and file an official police report.

For additional resources, visit the state Attorney General’s website at ag.hawaii.gov.

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Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-0329 or gscrimgeour@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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