KINGSTON, Jamaica, Wednesday April 25, 2012 — With Jamaica rapidly becoming a centre for international telemarketing fraud, authorities have launched a new task force to fight proliferating lottery scams.
The Jamaican and United States governments already have a three-year-old joint task force that has been dealing with the issue, which mainly targets elderly Americans, but the problem has worsened.
Julian Robinson, a senior official in Jamaica’s Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, told the Press that the lottery scams will seriously damage Jamaica’s reputation as a Caribbean tourist destination and business centre if they continue.
“The implications of the lotto scam touches and encompasses so many critical areas of our national life,” he said.
Robinson noted that at least “30,000 calls are made into the U.S. from Jamaica attempting to defraud” American citizens every day.
Police say there are very visible signs of the fraud-spawned riches in the hot spot for the gangs, St. James parish, where a growing number of teenagers and young adults from modest backgrounds are living very well without any obvious source of income.
Deputy Police Commissioner Glenmore Hinds said the violent fraud rings are recruiting students out of schools, some as young as 14 years of age. One 15-year-old scammer was able to buy his mother a house and drove around in a luxury car, Hinds said.
The rising economic power of the swindlers is apparently also having a corrupting influence on police.
“Gangs are now contracted to seek out revenge on competitors and in some cases corrupt policemen are also employed to work for and on behalf of the scammers,” Hinds said.
The young Jamaican con artists have become so brazen that they throw lavish street parties. “There are parishes where scammers use champagne to wash their cars and light money as part of their celebrations,” Hinds said.
The Jamaican and American governments set up a joint task force three years ago to combat the scams. But complaints in the US have increased dramatically every year and even the most conservative estimates put the yearly take from Jamaican scams at $300million, up from about $30million in 2009.
The scams started roughly five years ago, at about the same time the island became a regional leader in call centres dedicated to customer service. Since 2006, many of the legitimate call centres have been based in Montego Bay, where many of the fraud rings have emerged.
The schemes are so widespread that some American police departments have started warning vulnerable elderly residents to be wary of calls from Jamaica’s 876 telephone code.