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Scam Jam offers advice to avoid con artists

KAPAA — Josephine Steciuk has been scammed six times in her life.

“I’m so angry,” she said. “What really makes me mad is that because of privacy laws, no one will tell you who took money from you.”

Two years ago, the IRS sent Steciuk and her husband a letter, saying someone had filed their income tax.

Then a month ago, their account was broken into.

“They got to our email, password and ID, and started moving money all around,” she said. “I had my credit card be used even though it was in my possession.”

The couple was also sent a fraudulent check after they sold a motor home a few years back.

“I’ve had enough already,” Steciuk said. “Twice, we had to change credit cards and bank accounts.”

Steciuk was one of about 100 kupuna who attended a Scam Jam gathering Thursday in the Paddle Room of the Courtyard Marriott Kauai.

The event was hosted by AARP Hawaii to teach the community about the psychology of money, the top scams that con artists use in Hawaii and ways to prevent them from becoming victims.

Aya Classen, who lives in Kapaa, said she wanted to attend the meeting to learn more about identity theft. She said she was a victim of a scam while living in Los Angeles.

“Someone was using my Social Security number,” she said.

She also said she was almost a victim of another scam when someone called her and said she owed money after being in a car accident.

“My driving record is clean,” she said.

Now, whenever she gets a call from a number she doesn’t recognize, Classen lets it go to voicemail.

“Don’t pick up the phone. You can call back. And if you don’t recognize the number, you can look it up,” she said.

Jackie Boland, community outreach director for AARP Hawaii, and Susan Arthur, of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Investor Education Foundation, discussed different scams and the resources that are available if believe they have been taken in by a scam.

“We try to be educators and watchdogs,” Boland said. “Identity theft, investment fraud and scams are responsible for taking millions of Americans away from their money every single day.”

To combat that, organizations have online tools that alert people to scams in their area and help verify entrepreneurs before an investment is made. FIRNA also has a senior security hotline that directs the caller to the experts and information they need.

And, by signing up for the Fraud Watch Network, which is an AARP service, people are emailed the latest, breaking scam alerts, prevention tips and access to resources that connect them to experts.

Arthur talked about the ways scammers and other con artists try to get information from their victims.

“Emotion is key, she said.

“Scammers are really good at finding vulnerabilities,” Arthur said. “They try to evoke an emotional response.”

But if a person starts asking questions, they will back off, she added.

Scammers also use tricks, like source credibility, social consensus, phantom riches scarcity and reciprocity to convince their potential victims to give them valuable information.

“All of these tactics are legitimate sales tactics, but scammers use them to get a quick response,” Arthur said.

Before participants entered the Paddle Room, they were asked to put a note on a white board that had a list of about a dozen scams, next to the one they wanted to have more information about.

Scams like”just say yes,” “texting errors,” “mega millions sweepstakes,” “IRS Scam,” “Microsoft support,” “government grant,” “you owe a debt,” “pre-pay to get a loan,” “lower credit card interest,” “grandchild is in trouble,” “eBay/Craigslist over payment,” and “online dating” were represented.

The top three popular kinds of scams — “IRS,” “just say yes” and “lower credit card interest” were highlighted by Lorie Sides, brand integrity service specialist for the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii.

The “just say yes” scam is when a scammer asks if the person on the other end can hear them. Once the person says “yes,” they hang up. But that person has recorded that “yes” in the person’s voice, and can use that to access personal information.

“Hang up, ask them questions, or answer with something other than yes,” Sides said. “If you give them a hard time, and not give them what they want, they will give up.”

Jim Jung said he’s been taken in by a scam, which is where a scammer calls a person, saying they’ve detected a virus on their computer and they can fix it for a fee.

In Jung’s case, after paying about $500 to get his computer “fixed,” it crashed a year later because malware had been downloaded.

“I’m a criminal defense lawyer, and you’d think I would know better. But as I’ve gotten older, I trust more,” he said.

He said he got a call from a man saying they could fix his computer. And they did, but for $395. Then, a few months later, his computer went black, and he got a call again, saying it needed to be refreshed. That time, it cost him $195.

“I was looking at my bank statements, and saw a Swiss bank was making transactions,” he said. “As long as man has ingenuity, they’ll find ways to take your money.”

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