Op-Ed: Jamaica’s Lotto Scam Problem

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By David Rowe
Op-Ed Contributor

A NATIONAL SECURITY PROBLEM in Jamaica has become a public relations problem in the United States.

The so-called “lotto scam” is a multinational fraud scheme directed at elderly US citizens by organized criminals in Jamaica.

The lotto scam targets senior citizens who are duped into believing that they have won large amounts of money. The seniors are then encouraged to send money, ostensibly tax payments, via electronic means to Jamaican crime lords.

The United States Federal Trade Commission believes that scams of this type has defrauded US citizens out hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

The US government reports that many incidents end up being unreported because of the seniors’ fear of have of embarrassment, or of intimidation from the lotto scammers.

Despite the US-Jamaican extradition treaty, however, Jamaica has never extradited a lottery suspect to the United States although US lawmakers are now calling for precisely that.

For now, the government has issued a national warning to all elderly citizens not to respond to telephone calls from Jamaica’s 876 area code. The question being asked is how a small island could have spread such a severe, fraudulent practice.

Jamaican lottery scammers were the focus of a special hearing by the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging, which is co-chaired by Senator Susan Collins of Maine.

Maine is one of the states where a vast number of elderly citizens have been duped out of large fortunes by aggressive lotto scammers. It seemed obvious to Senator Collins that different Jamaican governments over the past five years have done very little to resolve the problem.

Senator Collins referred to the amount of money that Jamaica spends “enticing Americans to come vacation in Jamaica.” Senator Collins thought that a similar effort should be made to suppress the lotto scam.

“There is nothing these scammers won’t do”, Senator Collins said, calling the scammers “absolutely despicable.”

One of the facts about lotto scamming that emerged from this week’s Senate hearing was the fact that the perpetrators try to cultivate personal relationships with their victims.

Law enforcement officials believe that every day more than 30,000 calls are made from Jamaica’s 876 area code in an attempt to defraud American citizens.

The scams are considered cyber fraud because many of the connections involve VoIP or voice over Internet Protocol, which allows frequent number changes and the ability to disguise the origin of the call.

Several US agencies have formed a joint task force called JOLT, the “Jamaican Operations Linked to Telemarketing.” Thus far, however, this task force has not been able to protect elderly Americans from losing their savings from the lottery scam.

What can be done to solve this problem?

United States Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater recently indicated that every Jamaican should feel an individual responsibility to help end the lotto scam. And International cooperation between the United States and Jamaica will be critical— but the burden must be on the Jamaican government — which last week introduced a new bill targeting the scammers.

If Jamaica’s government fails to act to root out this problem, it soon may end up being more than just America’s seniors who refuse to answer calls from the 876 area code.

David P Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and an adjunct law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.