Western Union halts money transfers in Jamaican parish linked to lottery scams

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Monday, August 13, 2012 – According to the Associated Press, money transfer company Western Union is temporarily shutting down its services in St James parish for the next two weeks as it undergoes a systems review.

The northern Jamaican parish which includes the resort town of Montego Bay, has been the centre for a multimillion-dollar lottery scam that targets mostly elderly Americans.

Western Union spokesman Dan Diaz said of the closure that the company regularly monitors global money transfers to ensure the company remains in compliance.
This move has earned Western Union some high praise from a lottery scam watchdog in the US.

FairPoint Communications, a north American media company that in March launched a campaign to warn potential US victims in the New England area of the lottery scam, has applauded Western Union’s decision.

“As we have been working with local, state and federal officials to shed light on this issue for several months, we applaud Western Union for taking these proactive steps to combat this very serious problem,” said Mike Smith, Vermont state president of FairPoint Communications. “Western Union is an industry leader in its efforts to stop fraud and has dedicated significant resources to proactively get information out to help warn people about scams. Our seniors are being abused and swindled of their hard-earned money and assets. We must all come together to help prevent it. That’s why FairPoint will continue our ‘Beware: Scams from Area Code 876’ campaign to keep raising awareness in an effort to stop scams before they happen.”

FairPoint maintains that the takings by Jamaican lotter scammers from US victims has increased tenfold over the last three years as it states that conservative estimates put the yearly take from Jamaican scams at US$300 million, up from about US$30 million in 2009.

According to Larry Caruso, FairPoint senior manager of security, the specific scam works as follows:

Potential victims receive a call from an 876 area code, which is often mistaken for a toll-free number. Callers are congratulated for winning the Jamaican lottery or a new car and then are directed to send a fee of up to US$4,000 to process the lottery winnings. They are told that once the fee is received, money will be wired to their bank account and the car will be delivered to their home. The money is requested through a wire from Western Union, Green Dot Card or in a creative way such as putting US$100 bills in each page of a magazine.

In citing real victims of this scam, FairPoint identified an elderly widow in Cape Elizabeth, Maine who lost more than US$140,000; a New Hampshire senior from the lakes region who was scammed of more than $85,000; and victims in Vermont who have reported losing up to $18,000.

Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell reportedly stated that his office receives approximately 200 calls per year reporting phone scams involving Jamaica. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)