I It’s difficult to believe that anyone would take advantage of our aloha spirit. Unfortunately, the Prosecutor’s Office has seen an increase in cases of friendly strangers who turn out to be con artists preying on seniors.

Edith (not her real name) was walking through Kapi‘olani Park when Alexander Nebre approached her. He said that someone told him that she needed help. Coincidentally, Edith was having problems with her plumbing. Nebre said he was a licensed plumber and contractor and could help her out. When invited into her apartment, Nebre “found” extensive termite damage. “Luckily” for her, he could make these repairs for a fraction of the cost of a “big company with lots of overhead.”

Edith fell for Nebre’s lies and paid him over $20,000 for repairs, which he never did. In December, Nebre was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay back $100,000 he stole from Edith and five other seniors. The average amount court-ordered defendants return to their victims is $25 to $50 a month. By my calculations, Edith and the other victims will be paid back in 166 years!

“Friendly” con artists can be found anywhere, but often target seniors in home repair stores, like The Home Depot and Lowes. They say they have some expertise that the overwhelmed homeowner needs, and they can do the job significantly cheaper than any competitor.

A great many of these so-called “experts” are unlicensed and unqualified. They either ask for payment up front or ask the victim to purchase materials, but they take the receipt. They might produce a phony invoice for materials — an invoice they found and stamped “Paid” themselves. The victim accepts this as “proof” that their money was used to buy materials/tools for the job.

“Cheap and cash-only” repairs are very tempting. If a “friendly” stranger wants to do work for you, ask not only for their license number but also for identification. A con artist will use a legitimate license number that belongs to someone else, so call the Consumer Resource Center (1-800-394-1902) to see if the license and name match. Also ask if there have been any complaints about that person. If this seems like too much humbug, remember, one simple phone call can save you thousands of dollars and keep you from having to call the police or meet with me.

To report suspected elder abuse, contact the Elder Abuse
Unit at: 808-768-7536 | ElderAbuse@honolulu.gov