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Local Hawaii residents lose thousands to overseas scammers

By Nana Ohkawa
Published On: Feb 21 2013 08:50:00 PM HST

Honolulu police say it's a new twist on an old scam and are now warning Hawaii residents about it.

HONOLULU -

Big bucks are padding the pockets of scammers overseas. The scary thought is that they are getting better at it.

A local Hawaii man who doesn't want to be identified said he's just been duped.  Police said he's actually one of six people here in Hawaii ripped off by the same group of Nigerian scammers.  They played on his weakness -- he wants to get back into the hotel business.

"They said, 'Well we can buy a hotel or get investment in hotel and you can operate it on our behalf,' and I said OK," said the victim.

There's a new twist on an old scam. Scammers tell you there's money headed your way -- it could be a lottery; it could be inheritance. You just need to provide some up-front money to claim it.  You hold up your end of the deal -- they never do.

Now,  the scammer asks you to send the money to a middle man who then sends the money back to the scammers.  It seems more legitimate to you, and adds an extra layer of protection for them. But, again, you never see your money.

"The figures are big and quite often you're talking about numerous victims and it really adds up," said Lt. John McCarthy with the Honolulu Police Department.

The Honolulu victim deposited a $100,000 check to the bank. The bank cleared the check, and he sent the money to the middle man. Only then did the bank say the check's a fraud and they want him to repay it.

"The bank makes you responsible for their inefficiency, their mistake which I think is ridiculous," said the victim.

Bankers say they lose billions in these types of scams.

"Our industry is having to deal with frankly very organized criminal units that have perpetuated financial fraud," said Edward Pei with Hawaii Bankers Association.

Victims say it's a nightmare.

"It's unbelievable because the bank first of all they close your accounts immediately and then they try to recoup your money," said the victim.

Even if you don't know you're a part of a scam, police said you are still engaged in money laundering, a criminal act, and the victim could be investigated for the fraud.

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