|Kate Chappell - The Guardian - 17-04-02
Click here for original article Back to Articles
A large part of the problem is the shape-shifting nature of the crime. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA
Shirley thought she had made a new friend. The elderly Maine resident would don a dress and jewels and wait at the back door for the charming young Jamaican man she had met over the phone.
The couple had developed a long-distance relationship after he called to say she had won $24m US and a new car in a lottery. He appeared untroubled by Shirley’s dementia and asked for a picture of her.
But he never appeared. Instead, he harassed Shirley and her family with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of phone calls in a complicated scam that eventually led her to lose more than $200,000 and her home.
“She would stand by the back door in her jewels, waiting for him to give her her new car or take her to dinner or to show her the house he was building for her,” said Shirley’s niece, Sandra Raymond.
Shirley is just one of countless Americans – most of them elderly and vulnerable – who have fallen victim to Jamaica’s lottery scam, a criminal cottage industry that is estimated to involve at least 30,000 people. Over the past 20 years, the fraud is believed to have been worth an estimated $1bn each year, overtaking the drugs trade in terms of illicit contributions to Jamaica’s economy.
Last week, the justice minister, Delroy Chuck, signed extradition orders for eight people over a complex scam that defrauded 10 elderly Americans of hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to court documents.
But Clare Hochhalter, a North Dakota assistant US attorney involved in the case, said that the fight against the scammers is just beginning. “There’s much more to do. More offences need to be aggressively prosecuted and offenders need to be held accountable, both in Jamaica and in the US,” Hochhalter added.
Scammers find their victims by obtaining contact details from hotels or call centres, or even online. Like Nigeria’s 419 scammers, they promise a large payout – often a lottery prize – but then tell the victim that a fee is needed to process the cash.
Victims are told to wire the money to Jamaica, or even send it by mail.
Fraudsters have amassed large fortunes by manipulating their victims, some earning up to $100,000 US a week. That kind of money makes the scam stubbornly hard to eradicate.
A large part of the problem is the shape-shifting nature of the crime. To evade controls on money transfers, fraudsters have recently started shipping their earning back to Jamaica in cash. So far this year, five cash-carrying “mules” have been arrested at Montego Bay’s Sangster airport – compared with none last year.
“These criminals are remarkably adaptable,” says Luis Moreno, US ambassador to Jamaica. “It’s like a balloon; you squeeze it in one place and it pops up in another.”
Another problem for law enforcement is the perception that – unlike robbery or drug dealing – scamming is a non-violent, even victimless, crime. In 2012 the popular dancehall artist Vybz Kartel, who is serving life in prison for murder, released a track called Reparation that argued the crime was a form of payback for the damage done by colonial rule. “Nuh rob Jamaican, don’t buy gun fi kill man / Foreign exchange is good fi di country,” he sang. “Dem call it scam / Mi call it reparation.”
But the scam’s vast profits have themselves helped fuel violence in Jamaica: up to 50% of murders in western Jamaica can be traced back to clashes over the proceeds of scamming, said former minister of national security and current federal politician Peter Bunting.
“We have had so much violence driven by this, although I don’t know if people connect the dots,” Bunting said.
Corruption is also a factor: police officers are often bribed to turn a blind eye – or tip off scammers when raids are planned.
“They get corrupted by the amount of luxury and the lifestyle they see,” said one officer who asked not to be named. “The scammers try to buy them out and shower them with gifts.”
Tags: Lottery scam, Jamaica, fraud, Delroy Chuck, Clare Hochhalter, money transfers
Back to Articles