HILO — Many Hawaii Island residents were inundated by scam calls during the holiday season, and police say they’re still receiving complaints about telephone and internet scams.
Individuals posing as employees of local utility companies and tax officials are calling and threatening to either have the utilities turned off for nonpayment, or threatening to have the victim arrested for nonpayment of taxes.
Police caution the public not to respond to requests for payment that come by telephone or the internet.
If you are unsure that a notification from a utility company is legitimate, confirm it by calling the published phone number in the phone book and not through any phone number you receive from the call or the internet.
“The community needs to keep their guard up when finding deals online or receiving telephone calls for payment,” Sgt. Roylen Valera of Kona Community Policing Section said Monday. “The type of scam, reason or situation may change, but the scam remains the same — getting you to pay someone over the phone or online, sight unseen. Whenever you receive this request, it should automatically raise a red flag.”
Many of the scam calls are coming from area codes other than Hawaii, including the Dominican Republic, which is area code 809. Scam calls also are coming from the 876 area code, which is Jamaica; from area code 304 in West Virginia; 985 in Louisiana; and numerous calls from 818, a Los Angeles area code.
The number that shows up on caller ID might not be an accurate reflection of the origin of the call. If a would-be victim calls the number back and receives a prerecorded message saying, “This number is unallocated or “Sorry, your call cannot be completed at this time. Please hang up and try again later,” chances are, it is a scam call.
Police also warn of internet scams including the buying/selling of vehicles and online rentals of houses or apartments. It is recommended to meet in person to view the item, product or rental before sending any payment when dealing with private parties rather than established businesses.
Lt. Miles Chong of the Hilo Criminal Invest-igations Section said if a scam call is coming from Hawaii and police are able to trace the caller, local law enforcement officials can begin a criminal investigation.
If the scam is originating outside of Hawaii’s jurisdiction, it is a matter of interstate commerce, which makes it a federal offense. He said police refer victims or would-be victims to the Federal Trade Commission’s website to file a complaint. The address is: www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
Lois C. Greisman, associate director of the FTC’s Division of Marketing Practices, said one of the top questions the agency receives is, “Is this a scam?”
“Whatever the ‘this’ looks like, here’s our best answer to that question: Did someone say you can only pay by wiring money, putting money on a gift card, or loading money on a cash reload card? If they did, then, yes, that is a scam,” Greisman said.
Anyone with information about any persons making phone or Internet scams is asked to call the police nonemergency line at 935-3311 or Crime Stoppers at 961-8300.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.