Telemarketing scams

Over the last few weeks, Jamaica has been in the news for lottery scams. This post highlights some of the issues and likely consequences for Jamaica and other countries that might be the sources of such fraudulent activities, along with tips to help you and your loved ones from being conned.

Most of us have come across this sort of email at least once:

“Congratulations you have won USD 10 million! … But in order for your winnings to be released, please forward USD xxx to…”

Although many of us might delete such messages without a second thought, would you act so decisively if you were called instead?

The truth is that there are millions worldwide, particularly the elderly, who fall prey to those scams, and are bilked out of their life savings. Jamaica, here in the Caribbean, is fast becoming one of those countries associated with lottery (or also known as telemarketing) scams, similar to Canada, Costa Rica and Spain. According to the Huffington Post:

Researchers say lottery and sweepstakes fraud is vastly underreported, estimating up to 92 percent of victims stay silent, so exact figures are impossible to tally. But even the most conservative estimates put the yearly take from Jamaican scams at $300 million, up from about $30 million three years ago.

Although the US and Jamaica are co-operating in attempts to crack down on the scams, progress has been slow. The situation has become so severe that some US states have issued advisories such as “Beware: Scams from Area Code 876”, “876” being Jamaica’s dialling country code.

Considerations and implications

The Huffington Post article and above video clip should begin to indicate the enormity of the situation that is being faced both by the victims and law enforcement. Below are a few issues that should be considered along with consequences that could, and perhaps are beginning to eventuate, as the scamming continues to escalate.

1.  Transnational crimes are especially difficult to prosecute. For example, although the US has conducted about 400 investigations, just over 100 arrests have been made, and USD 1 million in assets seized. In Jamaica’s case, its limited resources to facilitate speedy investigation and timely prosecution, along with constraints in the rules of evidence, especially with regard to video testimony, make prosecution an even greater challenge.  Technology has fostered anonymity.  To varying degrees, lottery scams have been aided by technology. In the case of telemarking schemes, where potential victims are called, scammers can better conceal their tracks thanks to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and the use of disposable cell phones especially in the US. For email-based lottery scams, dummy email addresses are the norm, but more importantly, the messages can contain viruses or other threats, which can collect your personal data, and/or compromise the security of bank accounts that are accessed from infected devices.

3.  Privacy may increasingly become an illusion. Due to the pervasive nature of the crimes that are being committed, and the anonymity that technology currently affords, in order to better investigate and track down perpetrators, it may become necessarily to introduce measures that will allow for a variety of transactions and interactions to be traced or monitored. This is already the case with regard to international money/wire transfers from the US, but may be broadened to include calls or even emails originating from specific destinations.

4.  As frustration grows, sanctions will likely increase.  Without a doubt, there is a sense that developed countries are getting frustrated with the limited success that is being made to stamp out such scams. Increasingly, measures will likely be imposed that aim to counterbalance the situation in favour of the affected countries, but can have a detrimental effect on others. For example, it is against US federal law to play a foreign lottery, or even to engage in online gambling with operations based overseas. The latter has had considerable implications for countries in the region, such as Antigua and Barbuda, that were engaging in legitimate online gambling operations but changes in legislation as resulted in considerable losses to that economy.

Tips for guarding against lottery and other similar scams

While many of us believe that we will not be duped by such scams, it is vital that we remain vigilant. Below are some tips from the Beware: Scams from Area Code 876 campaign that might be useful, and should be shared with others that might be susceptible.

  • If you get a call saying you’re a winner – don’t pay any money to collect supposed sweepstakes winnings. Legitimate operations won’t require you to pay to collect your winnings…
  • Never wire money to anyone with whom you are not familiar.
  • Never provide anyone with personal information such as bank accounts, pin numbers or Social Security numbers.
  • Check any unfamiliar area codes before returning calls….
  • If you do not have Caller ID, consider adding it to your phone service. Caller ID allows you to add a Call Intercept feature that screens calls and offers the option to reject suspicious international calls.
  • If you do not make international calls, ask your telephone provider to block outgoing international calls.

On the other hand, if contact has been made by email, just delete the messages.  Do not reply, as this would confirm that your email address is active, and may lead continued bombardment.

Finally, do keep in mind that some of the scams appear to come from persons who you know, and might not use the “you have won” tactic. Instead, the slant might be that your friend has gotten stranded (for example in Spain), and urgently needs you to send them cash to resolve their situation. Although the request might seem odd, you might still be keen to help, but do consider that the person’s account might have been hacked or other compromised. Hence it might be prudent to attempt to seek some corroboration that this person might indeed be in trouble before parting with any of your hard-earned cash.

Image courtesy of chanpipat,


1 Comment

  • Hi,
    Interesting read. It is indeed a fact that transnational crimes are rather difficult to address, this is why there needs to appropriate systems in place. It is good that Jamaica seems to be taking steps to address the problem of the scam. This seeming anonymity provided by technology is slowly drawing to a close. despite the Jamaican police playing catchup now at least some progress is being made and persons are becoming more aware.

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