PRINCEVILLE — When Princeville resident Curtis Futch answered an ad for his townhouse rental in April, he thought things would be smooth sailing.
The situation turned out turbulent.
After receiving a $3,500 cashier’s check, Futch said, a person who identified herself as Margaret Holsinger requested half the funds be wired back.
“She said, ‘You know, I want you to get me a car also, so I’m going to send you a cashier’s check for $3,500 and you keep $1,700 for a deposit for the place and send me $1,700,’” Futch recounted.
Futch received a call three days later from First Hawaiian Bank. Turns out, the check was bogus.
“The bank calls me up and tells me that the cashier’s check is no good,” he said. “That means somebody can just write on a piece of paper numbers that look like a cashier’s check and just come and withdraw thousands of dollars out of here?”
After the alleged renter received the $1,700, she requested more money.
“I told her she was crazy. This money was for the deposit of the house,” Futch said. “I told her that the cashier’s check was no good and all communication was lost at that time.”
Attempts to contact the person who identified herself as Holsinger were unsuccessful.
Scammers also target public officials.
In November 2012, someone tried to con Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry out of hundreds of dollars. The caller promised Perry a large sum of money after he wire transferred $400 to a person in New York, which would supposedly cover taxes and processing fees.
“We wanted the public to get a true understanding of how con artists operate so they can identify when they’re being conned,” Perry said in a statement. “While this scammer’s promises are so outrageous at times it can seem comical, the fact is there are a lot of people who willingly give their personal information and hard-earned money to strangers. And once that happens, almost nothing can be done to get it back.”
The 16-minute conversation was recorded by KPD and can be found on its website.
From Jan. 1 last year through July 30, there were 203 complaints of fake checks and overdraft scams in Hawaii, according to data from Better Business Bureau Hawaii.
Timothy A. Caminos, BBB Hawaii director of communications and public relations, said scams such as overdraft and phony checks are fairly common.
“Unfortunately, there are no laws against scamming, he said. “There are laws against bad business practices, but obviously this isn’t a bad business practice. This is a straight scam — like someone taking advantage of the person.”
In hindsight, Futch said, he shouldn’t have sent back the money.
“You know how you try to do good will to somebody who’s trying to relocate or trying to move on with their life?” he said. “But based on that experience right there, you can’t trust people that easily.”
A person’s good nature is a trait scammers prey on, Caminos said.
“The thing with scammers is that they’re going to look for opportunities and looking to prey on people’s good nature,” he said. “The fact that she wanted money sent back was a red flag. Even if they ask if they need money back for a third-party source or to pass money onto someone else, that’s an automatic red flag. If they ever want you to wire anything via a money card, it’s another red flag.”
Caminos said it could have been worse.
“Recently, I had someone who gave $15,000 in overpayment scams,” he said. “In a sense, (Futch) got off cheap. It’s an expensive lesson to learn, but at least not as expensive as $15,000.”
Futch said he wants the bank to take some responsibility, but according to FDIC guidelines, First Hawaiian Bank followed protocol.
“I went back to the bank and I was like, ‘Why did y’all give me money on the cashier’s check without verifying if the check was good?’” he said. “And then they gave a procedure type thing about a cashier’s check.”
According to First Hawaiian Bank policy, funds that are deposited by cash or electronic payment are available immediately and funds deposited by check are made available on the first business day after the day it was deposited.
In the case of checks, Caminos said, make sure it clears before withdrawing money.
“We all know that generally banks will say you got three to four days, sometimes seven days, for checks to clear in your account,” he said. “Let it clear first before you do anything.”
Caminos said it’s important for individuals who are targets of scams to contact the police and the BBB.
“When we start to see a pattern and people start reporting them to us, even if they don’t fall for them, what we generally do is we have enough information and we take it to the media or do a release on it,” he said. “It’s hard for us to do anything substantial without the feedback of the community.”