Despite falling victim to a $9,000 airline travel voucher scam, the 15 members of a Big Island girls basketball club are still shooting for their yearlong goal of participating in their first mainland tournament next month.
"Yesterday, when we broke the news to the girls, they were disappointed and hurt," said Ben Pana, coach of the Keaukaha Lady Ballahs, who range in age from 11 to 14.
But the players, their parents, the coach and friends are busy in a flurry of fundraising events to recoup their losses in time to make the July 19-27 tournament in Las Vegas.
"They were kind of bummed because they really worked hard," said Dana Harris, mother of Kaily, 13, who plays forward and guard. "We did all these fundraisers. But they’re still practicing. No matter what, somehow, some way, we are taking these girls. They worked too hard to stay home."
Team coordinator Tene Kaupu paid $9,000 for what she thought were 30 Hawaiian Airlines ticket vouchers for team members and parents.
"We know that a number of people have been scammed," Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Keoni Wagner said. "We know the people involved. We know the source, and we’re working closely with law enforcement."
"This is one of those situations when a deal sounds too good to be true, it usually is," Wagner said. "We just want to caution people to buy tickets directly from the airlines or a reputable travel agent.
"If there are people holding these vouchers … they’re not going to be able to fly," he said.
The vouchers were bought with stolen credit card information and resold through Craigslist, Wagner said.
The FBI was assessing the situation to determine whether it should start a probe or refer it to the Secret Service, which handles credit card cases, said FBI spokesman Tom Simon.