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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 23, 2010

Officials warn of debit-card phone scam

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer


State officials say to call the Consumer Resource Center at 587-3222 to report suspicious calls.

The state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs also tracks complaint history and offers useful consumer information at www.hawaii.gov/dcca.

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A debit-card telephone scam turned up in Hawai'i this week, prompting state consumer officials to remind residents that banks and financial institutions don't call and ask for personal information.

The latest warning came after financial counselor Lehua Rosa Malott got a call at home this week from a scammer allegedly reporting a "debit card security breach."

Rosa Malott, a counselor with the nonprofit Hawai'i HomeOwnership Center, said she received an automated call asking her for personal information to reactivate her card.

Since she spends her daily work helping to prevent people from getting into financial trouble, she immediately thought something was wrong even though the recorded call sounded "pretty smooth."

She said the call asked for her account number, expiration date, number on the back of her card and personal identification number. She released none of the information, but later filed a police report and reported it to state officials.

Financial institutions would have no need to ask and would contact customers by mail if there is a security breach, said Stephen Levins, executive director of the state Office of Consumer Protection.

"They will notify you by mail, not by phone or not by e-mail," he said.

He and Rosa Malott said that people who get a suspicious call should note the number but hang up.

Rosa Malott has counseled well-educated, well-meaning residents who have made this mistake, telling her: "I just panicked and gave them the information."

Levins said most people who get such calls do hang up, but added that the scammers only need "1 percent" to fall for the scam to make it worthwhile.

Anyone who realizes that they may have given out personal financial information to a possible scam artist should report the event immediately to their financial institution, Levins said. Consumers can be held liable for $500 or more in lost funds.