They operate out of foreign countries and often from the mainland, gleaning personal information and using it to file people’s taxes for them. Most people would be glad for a helping hand around tax time, but not when the preparer diverts the return to a different address and cashes in.
That’s what happened to four individuals in North Kohala this tax season. Police are trying to figure out who did it and what means they used, and they plan to work with the Internal Revenue Service in their investigation.
“The perpetrators are operating out of boiler rooms in Nigeria where we have no jurisdiction at all. Some are on the mainland,” Paul Kealoha, assistant chief of Area II Operations, told the Hawaii County Police Commission on Friday.
Interviewed after the meeting, Kealoha said he couldn’t provide specifics about the cases because they are under investigation, but he said it is notable that four people were hit in one small community.
Police Commission Chairman John Bertsch called for a cyber crimes enforcement unit at the police department, with equipment and training dedicated to quickly evolving cyber threats.
Hawaii County Police Chief Harry Kubojiri said police do tackle cyber-related crimes, including child pornography, but he agreed that such efforts should be heightened.
“There is no doubt in my mind that’s the direction the department needs to be going,” Bertsch said during a break in the meeting. “National crime trends show us the sophistication is just getting greater.”
West Hawaii had 215 burglaries during the past 12 months, down from 296 the year prior. Hilo saw an increase, meanwhile, from 577 incidents to 739, and an accompanying increase in auto thefts, according to Police Department data.
“There has been an increase in Toyota Tacomas being stolen,” Assistant Chief Henry Tavares said. “There are individuals, suspects we are looking at.”
Police are stepping up efforts to inform the community, working with neighborhood watch coordinators and a videographer to create a 30-second TV commercial on how people can safeguard their belongings and spot suspicious activity.
Bertsch said the recent national spike in gun purchases because of fear the Obama administration would curtail gun rights has led “to more people running around with handguns” locally. Bertsch said weapons-related violence is on the rise lately, and he pointed to recent stabbings, a shooting in Holualoa late last month and the firing of gunshots in Kailua Village last weekend.
Kubojiri said that such crimes are spiking nationally. His department has been inundated with requests for “active shooter” presentations around the island. Although he doesn’t have the staff to keep up with all of the requests, police are planning to hold a presentation in West Hawaii in the next few months — preferably in a large venue where many people can attend, he said. Police recently held a presentation in Honokaa.
An active shooter is an individual who is killing or attempting to kill people in a confined or populated area, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which offers courses in dealing with those situations.
“Communities and businesses want to know what they can do to prepare,” Kubojiri said. “We want to go around the island.”