'Kevin Costner' scammer targets Balclutha woman

A Balclutha pensioner was scammed by someone claiming to be Hollywood star Kevin Costner. Photo:...
A Balclutha pensioner was scammed by someone claiming to be Hollywood star Kevin Costner. Photo: Getty Images
Relatives of a Balclutha woman being scammed online - by someone posing as Kevin Costner - want to highlight the wider problem.

Dunedin woman Karen Hale said scammers began targeting her 77-year-old mother about three weeks ago, claiming to be Hollywood actor Kevin Costner.

She said the scammers, posing as Costner, were telling her mother he was unable to access funds due to "security issues", and required discreet, urgent help as a result.

She said her mother insisted the situation was real and had stopped communicating with family.

Bank account details showed her mother had paid about $5000 in iTunes gift cards to the scammers and showed no signs of stopping after selling family jewellery to meet their demands.

She wanted to share the story in an effort to help others, and to shed light on what officials say is a serious and widespread issue in the South.

Mrs Hale said that possibly because of the family’s historic film industry connections the persuasiveness of the scam was not as bizarre as it might seem.

"We believe the scammers have picked up on something my mother has been searching for or watching online related to Kevin Costner and used that to target her.

"Our family used to know some Hollywood film-makers so possibly, for her, the idea that a celebrity might be contacting her isn’t as unbelievable as it seems.

"They get you to buy iTunes cards, which can be sent as codes through a messaging app, then turned into cash at the other end."

Police were investigating, but were limited in the action they could take.

Her mother’s bank appeared to be similarly powerless, she said.

The situation was not helped by the policies of some local retailers, Mrs Hale said.

She said a law change could be one way to curtail similar scams.

"We’ve checked locally, and most shops have in-house policies limiting the dollar-amount and frequency of sale of these gift cards, because they’re widely known to be a tool for scammers.

"However, at least one Balclutha store, being used by my mother, has no such policy.

"There doesn’t seem to be a law preventing it so, for me, it’s a matter of social conscience and responsibility to your community.

"I’m disgusted, frustrated and at a loss for what to do."

Detective Kate Bartlett, of Balclutha, said police were working with local retailers to put "more stringent practices in place".

"I would like to thank the local businesses that have declined to sell iTunes cards ... to those affected."

She hoped all local businesses would take the same responsibility.

"One victim earlier this year was scammed of a large amount of money, but thankfully a local business was extremely proactive and identified [the issue], due to the value of the vouchers.

"The impact scams have on families is devastating and in a lot of instances the scam victims do not have the money they are spending .. "Please be vigilant with people ... make them aware of scams and have open conversations about protecting each other against them."