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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hawaii BBB warns of prize scam


By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i's Better Business Bureau is warning consumers about phone scammers who are using the BBB name to trick people into believing they have won a prize package.

Hawai'i's BBB got the first report of this fake prize scam last week, and similar stories have emerged from BBBs on the Mainland as well.

In one instance, a Honolulu woman got a phone call from a man named Michael Kobani who said he worked for the Better Business Bureau. He told her that she had won a cash prize package and he was trying to help her claim it.

"Kobani" told her that she had won $900,000 in a sweepstakes lottery and all she had to do to receive the prize was wire $1,000 to his California address. But an alert employee at the Dillingham Money Mart refused to conduct the transaction.

When he did not receive the money, "Kobani" called the woman the next day and told her to go to her bank and send him a money order instead. That's when she called Hawaii's BBB.

"Scammers use the well-known and trusted name of BBB to make themselves seem legitimate," said Dwight Kealoha, CEO of Hawai'i's BBB.

"Aside from trying to help people avoid these scams, BBB has nothing to do with sweepstakes, giving away money, or contacting prize winners," he said.

Fake lotteries, sweepstakes or other prize offers were the No. 1 scam in the state last year, with Hawai'i's BBB receiving more than 1,800 related complaints, reports and inquiries. However, some people do not want to believe that the unexpected news of a windfall is simply setting them up for a rip-off.

"Despite our best efforts to convince her otherwise," Kealoha said, "the Honolulu woman is still accepting calls from this guy and she really doesn't want to believe that he's up to no good."

Kealoha said his office forwarded the information to federal authorities for investigation.

He offers some tips on how to avoid prize fraud:

• Do not pay to collect your winnings. Legitimate sweepstakes or contests don't require tax payments up front, or charge insurance, delivery or other fees to collect a prize.

• Hold on to your money. Scammers pressure people to wire funds through money transfer companies because wiring money is the same as sending cash but when the money's gone, there's very little chance of recovery. They may also ask for a check or money order sent by overnight delivery or courier. Rip-off artists like these services because they can get to your money before you realize that you've been cheated.

• When in doubt, check it out with Hawai'i's BBB. Verify written offers and tell any suspicious caller that you are going to check with BBB before agreeing to anything and do so.

• If you or someone you know is contacted about winning a prize in a contest that was not entered, report it to Hawai'i's BBB at 536-6956 or toll free from the Neighbor Islands at 877-222-6551.