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Lt. John McCarthy explains how the scams work

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Scammers use new trend to collect money

It is something that happens quite often--many people falling victims to schemes. The most prominent have been fraud committed by suspects in Nigeria. These include romance, investment, advance fee, employment, sweepstakes, lottery and inheritance scams. These fraudsters are constantly changing their methods to have their victims believe them and send them money. Recently HPD has noticed an alarming trend in how these fraudsters collect their money.

These fraudsters have begun to use their victims and other unknowing participants as intermediaries. In the past, these suspects asked their victims to send them the money directly either through Western Union, MoneyGram, or via a bank wire; however, the suspects are now using their victims to collect and forward the money on to them.

How does this work? The intermediary is often someone they have already been in contact with--by telling him or her they have won something or will get paid in return for doing some work for them. The swindle then works in either one of two ways. The intermediary may receive money wired into their bank account. The other way happens when the intermediary receives counterfeit checks in the mail and deposits them into their bank account. At some point, the intermediary is contacted either by phone, email or text and is given instructions on how the incoming money should be forwarded to them.

In the past month HPD has identified multiple accounts belonging to people, both here in Hawaii and the mainland, that have acted in some way as an intermediary in these frauds. So far, at least six individuals have fallen to fraud with losses over $100,000. Although the intermediary could be an unknowing victim, the public should know that they might be criminally and civilly liable for their actions. It is against the law to participate in an illegal sweepstakes or lottery. Simply acting to forward monies could amount to criminal penalties for money laundering, conspiracy, theft and violations of other federal laws.