The state is warning consumers of a social media scheme in which the scammers are posing as Stephen Levins, the executive director of the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection.
“This is the first time I’ve seen the scam involve my name and my office,” said Levins. “There have been situations where they’ll use the IRS, FBI or HPD.”
The scammers posted photos of cash and luxury items on Instagram, which in turn can be shared to Facebook, claiming to have knowledge of a secret investment that guaranteed a big payout. Consumers were asked to send money to the scammer in the form of a prepaid money card to be used to double or triple their investment.
“You send the money, and of course, you don’t get any money back,” said Levins. “Sometimes they’ll lose contact or if you persist, they’ll try to extract more money out of it.”
Levins said although his name and the Office of Consumer Protection were used to build a false sense of trust, there is no sign that his accounts have been hacked.
In this case, a Maui consumer who was in financial distress was targeted, according to Levins, and filed a complaint. He has no doubt that others were targeted as well.
Scammers routinely impersonate governmental agencies and officials to bilk consumers, but the Office of Consumer Protection would never request that a consumer send it money via an email or telephone call, he said.
“Never, ever send money to somebody or something like this because it’s a clear scam,” said Levins. “If anybody’s asking you to wire money, it’s a huge red flag that it’s a scam. Whether it’s on Instagram, Facebook, whatever social media tools that there are, if someone’s asking you for money for some kind of great investment opportunity or for a contest or you’ve won the lottery, it’s a scam.”
To avoid falling victim to these types of scams, the office offers the following tips:
>> If a follower or “friend” on social media offers a scheme to double or triple your money, ignore and delete them from your account.
>> Anytime a social media follower or “friend” asks you to send payment by prepaid money card, it should be a red flag that this is a scam.
>> Never give out personal information, such as your Social Security number, to a stranger on the phone, social media, or email.
>> Never wire money through Western Union, MoneyGram, or any other wire service to a person you do not know.
>> Never purchase gift or prepaid money cards for the purpose of providing the card numbers to someone else.
>> If you suspect you’re dealing with a scammer, call the Office of Consumer Protection at 587-4272 or the Federal Trade Commission immediately.