LIHU‘E — The COVID scammers are trying to strengthen their grip on Kaua‘i.
That was the word Tuesday from the Kaua‘i Police Department, with investigators saying several new fraud schemes have cropped up in recent days.
One of the new cons arrived in email inboxes on Monday. It purported to be from the “CARES Act Provider Relief Fund.” “We’re notifying you about an important update to. Your claim ending in U531899 from 9/14/2020,” said the purported notice.
The message said “no further action is required from you at this time,” but instructed the recipient to click a link in the message to “log in to the secure message center” to review the claim. The “message center,” of course, is engaged in “phishing,” a common internet scam practice intended to induce email recipients to enter confidential personal information.
The CARES (Coronvirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act is umbrella federal legislation enacted to provide several forms of economic relief to people and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Scammers are continuing to take advantage of the global COVID-19 crisis to steal money and personal information,” a KPD press release Tuesday said. Thehe department has received “numerous reports of various tactics being used.”
KPD said one particular scam has received a great deal of attention recently. Perpetrators obtain personal identifying information and then use it to apply for unemployment benefits and payments under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which was created to help gig workers, freelancers and other people who don’t have normal jobs.
KPD Assistant Chief Bryson Ponce said victims are sometimes called “money mules,” and that they can end up owing large amounts of money to agencies that pay out the benefits if payments are unwittingly made to imposters posing as the victims.
Sometimes, scammers convince victims to send payments directly to criminal recipients.
Such people, Ponce said, “are often victims themselves.”
KPD said another scam occurs when a person pretending to be with the state Department of Health calls a business like a restaurant and says a violation has been committed for which a fine must be paid. The payment is sent directly to the scam artists without victims realizing it, Ponce said.
“Witnesses have reported that one individual, in particular, has been posing as an official calling businesses,” the press release said. The perpetrator “has a heavy accent, and asks redundant questions that the Department of Health would already have the answers to.”
Social media platforms have also been used in some of the frauds. KPD said residents should beware of tactics in which the perpetrator pretends to be a law enforcement officer, tries to entice them with romantic overtures, promises large payments for cooperation or poses as a computer repair technician.
“These scammers will also sometimes threaten that there are people on island who will visit the victims if they do not follow their directions,” Ponce said. Scammers often lure people into going to stores to purchase gift cards worth as much as thousands of dollars and sending the cards to an address the criminal provides.
“They will then use other scammers to contact the victims and be very persistent,” Ponce said. “We don’t want community members who are already struggling during these unpredictable times to fall victim to any of these crimes.”
KPD reminded residents to never give out their personal information to anyone by phone or email, check out the background of any person or company who asks for such information, remain aware that law-enforcement agencies do not ask for payment in lieu of issuance of an arrest warrant, and monitor their credit status frequently.
People should be especially wary of payment methods that seem suspicious, and use caution in responding to unsolicited calls and emails or social media contacts.
“Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is,” KPD said.
Anyone receiving a communication — especially by text or email, but also by phone — that seems suspicious should report the incident to the KPD dispatch line, 241-1711, or Crime Stoppers Kauai, 246-8300.
This story was updated on Wednesday, Sept. 16 at 12:49 p.m. to correct attribution.
Allan Parachini is a Kilauea resident, furniture-maker, journalist and retired public-relations executive who writes periodically for The Garden Island.