Pukalani couple apparently swindled out of $1M cash

‘Sweepstakes winner scam’ is reported

WAILUKU — Police are renewing a warning about scams, following a report of a “sweepstakes winner scam” that targeted an elderly Pukalani couple who sent more than $1 million in currency to an unknown person, police said.

Patrol officers were called Jan. 3 to investigate the first-degree theft case and contacted the couple, who reported that from Oct. 17, 2018, to Dec. 31, 2019, they sent $1,143,450 in currency as part of the scam, Assistant Chief John Jakubczak said at a Maui Police Commission meeting Wednesday.

He said the couple had been contacted by someone claiming to be a U.S. Internal Revenue Service employee and saying they needed to pay taxes on their lottery winnings of $500,000, which they later were told increased to $1.5 million. The couple were told to send money to hold their winnings and were told the money they sent would be given back with interest, Jakubczak said.

He said the couple sent the money in amounts of $10,000 to $20,000 at a time by Federal Express, including to addresses in Hong Kong and the Philippines. They were told to place the money in magazines to avoid raising suspicions by Federal Express employees.

After sending the money, they were told to call a phone number and leave a message, Jakubczak said. He said someone would call back within about five minutes.

The couple were told not to tell anyone or they would be in breach of the agreement.

The theft was reported to police after family members became concerned when the couple asked to borrow large amounts of money, Jakubczak said.

He said the couple thought they had won the lottery and wanted to use their winnings to give their children Christmas gifts.

“This is just an example of the scams that are out there and prey on the elderly,” Jakubczak said. “This does happen. It happens here.”

He recommended that family members “make sure they talk to their parents, talk to their loved ones about these types of scams.”

The theft case was referred to the police Criminal Investigation Division, which is in contact with the FBI and other federal agencies, Jakubczak said.

Responding to a commissioner’s question about how scammers would know whom to target, Jakubczak said, “It’s like fishing. You put bait out there and whoever nibbles.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.