Extortion scheme targets Waikiki tourists

Beautiful beaches, nice weather, and the aloha spirit — all things that visitors experience when they come to the islands.

But in recent months, some are taking advantage of the aloha spirit in scheme targeting tourists in Waikiki. On Tuesday, two people were arrested after they tried to extort money from visitors.

A hotel security expert says it all starts with what seems like a kind gesture — the giving of a lei. But then it takes an unexpected turn.

“They will ask for their camera or their phone, take a picture of them, then hold that camera or hold the phone for money, usually starting at $50, up to $100 from what I’ve seen. And until they give the money, they give the phone back,” said Jerry Dolak, president of the Hawaii Hotel & Visitor Industry Security Association (HHVISA).

According to Dolak, the HHVISA has been working with Honolulu police to catch those who are extorting tourists.

“They’re devastated. They come back. They know once it’s over, that they’ve just been had and they come back to the hotel and they’re trying to communicate what happened to them. And now, the vacation’s lost,” said Dolak.

Dolaks says this type of crime comes and goes.

Some visitors we spoke to say they wouldn’t be so quick to hand over their valuables like a camera or a cell phone to strangers.

“I’d probably refuse,” said visitor Julie Mence.

“Say we’re not interested and just keep walking,” said visitor Peter Menice.

“No, we wouldn’t do it. It’s just a little bit more unsure of the security of it. Wouldn’t feel comfortable at all, no,” said Julie.

“Walking in downtown Waikiki with a lot of other tourists around, I feel pretty safe because there’s a large community of people. And if something did happen, I feel pretty confident that someone would come to my aid,” said visitor Tyler Anderton.

The HHVISA says they don’t want to scare visitors, but they do want them to be cautious.

“I think we need to cure the problem itself. Not warn people that it’s there. But just catch them, prosecute them, until the point where they can’t operate anymore,” said Dolak.

The HHVISA says if you see anything suspicious, alert security or police in the area.

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