Phone scams mar holiday season

  • LT. MILES CHONG
  • CAPT. GREG ESTEBAN

The holiday season is a time for shopping and gift giving — and apparently prime time for telephone scams, as well.

A number of phone scams have surfaced this holiday season from a variety of area codes, the Hawaii Police Department confirms.

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Thieves try to fool potential victims into thinking that they owe money to the Internal Revenue Service, electric company or that their auto warranty has expired. Some of the calls also try to fool victims into thinking they’ve won a prize.

These telephone calls are designed to trick people into giving the callers sensitive and private information to steal money.

“There’s one from the Dominican Republic. A bunch of people are getting them. I hope that no one’s responding to them. If you don’t recognize the number, ignore the call,” Capt. Greg Esteban of Hilo Patrol Division said Friday afternoon.

In addition to the Dominican Republic, which is area code 809, scam calls are also coming in the 876 area code, which is Jamaica, some from area code 304 in West Virginia and numerous calls from 818, which is a Los Angeles area code.

In fact, there are numerous posts on social media from people getting calls from area code 818 plus the seven-digit number of the actual Hawaii phone receiving the call. In some of these calls, a robotic or prerecorded voice warns the listener that their car warranty is about to expire and advises them to take steps to renew, which includes use of a credit card.

The warranty scam calls come from other numbers within the 818 area code, as well.

“Don’t respond to those robotic calls. They’re most likely scams,” Esteban said. “And they historically surface more during the holiday season. People are in a rush, they’re preoccupied during the holiday season, and they can become victimized if they don’t pay attention.”

There’s a term for scam callers approximating your number, or appropriating the number of someone you know. It’s called “spoofing.”

Another scam making the telephone rounds starts with a recorded voice and purports to be from the IRS. One version of the voice uses “Internal Revenue Services” instead of the agency’s proper title “Internal Revenue Service.”

Lt. Miles Chong of the Hilo Criminal Investigations Section said he’s received one of those calls.

“It has a 206 prefix. It’s still on my phone. My advice is, if you have to pay money to get money, most likely it’s a scam,” Chong said. “And if you get calls identifying themselves as from a government agency like the IRS and say they’re going to file a court action against you, find a number for the local IRS office and give them a call. They can verify if it’s genuine.”

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Even if the caller or prerecorded voice gets “Internal Revenue Service” correct, call the IRS in Honolulu at (808) 566-2705 to verify the call is from the agency. Use caution if you receive a suspicious call; merely hang up. Do not give out banking information, credit card information or personal information like your Social Security number.

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.