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Kokua Line: Scammers mimic licensing boards to try to rip off professionals

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Question: I got a strange call, which I hung up on, basically threatening that I was under investigation, etc. But instead of being about taxes or immigration, or other scams I’ve read about, the person referred to my license (I am a real estate appraiser). I am pretty sure this is a scam. Are you getting other calls like this?

Answer: Yes, although yours is the first to mention a real estate license. Kokua Line has received complaints over the past few weeks from people reporting similar “spoofing” or impersonation scams purporting to be from a licensing board or agency. Although the specifics vary, the scammer’s tactics are similar in each case, targeting people who work in licensed professions — such as nursing, plumbing and real estate — and claiming to be from a licensing board.

The state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, which oversees professional licensing in Hawaii, warns licensees to be aware of this scam, in which thieves pose as state officials to intimidate potential victims into divulging financial and other sensitive information.

A phone call out of the blue like the one you described does not follow DCCA procedures, marking it as a scam. Any professional or vocational licensee actually under investigation by the DCCA first would be notified in writing by the Regulated Industries Complaints Office (RICO), before any telephone call occurred, according to the DCCA.

“RICO will also never ask for private or sensitive information over the telephone. In addition, RICO does not employ police officers or use them for any part of its investigative work. Licensees can call 587-4272 to confirm if they are the subject of a formal RICO investigation,” the agency said in a July 22 news release.

The DCCA said a registered nurse was recently targeted by someone pretending to be from the state Board of Nursing, who put someone posing as a police officer on the phone. The duo told the nurse she was under investigation and sought her bank account information. The duo disguised their phone number to make it appear the call was coming from the regulatory board, a tactic known as caller ID “spoofing.”

Since then, DCCA has learned of scam attempts targeting a doctor and a physical therapist, neither of which were successful, spokesman Jayson Horiuchi said Tuesday.

This same tactic may be used to imitate various licensing boards, he said, which is why license holders in any profession — including real estate — should be forewarned and hang up on suspicious phone calls without supplying personal information. Licensees who want to follow up with their licensing boards should look up the contact information, rather than relying on the caller ID.

The DCCA’s Professional and Vocational Licensing Division has received complaints about this type of scam over the years, so it’s not a new tactic, but reminders on how to avoid being ripped off are worthwhile given the recent complaints, Horiuchi said.

Suspected scams may be reported to the Federal Trade Commission online at

Q: Will Honolulu County’s reinstatement of the ban on gatherings over 10 people keep schools from reopening?

A: No. Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s order limits indoor and outdoor social gatherings to no more than 10 people, regardless of household affiliation. But school is not a social gathering, it’s an essential activity, as described in Section II of the order, which you can read at

Q: Has TheBus gotten back to its regular schedule?

A: No. Oahu’s public buses continue to operate on a modified state holiday schedule Mondays through Fridays, as they have since early in the pandemic, according to TheBus website. The Saturday and Sunday schedules are in effect on weekends.

Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email

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