Arresting Jamaican lottery scams: is it too late?
Jamaica is under intense scrutiny international for the lottery scams that target America’s senior citizens. Are the country’s efforts enough reverse the bad publicity that has been generated?
Since our post in May 2012 post on Telemarketing scams, lottery scams (also known as advanced fee fraud) originating from Jamaica and targeting senior citizens in the United States (US), have been receiving increased attention. More victims are coming forward, and US law enforcement have expressed concerned that the Jamaican authorities were not doing enough to tackle the situation.
Over the past few days, major US television networks have increased coverage of the scams originating from Jamaica, which essentially casts the country in a less than favourable light. Later today, 13 March, the US Senate will hold a special hearing on “Jamaican phone fraud targeting seniors”, at which some victims, among others, will be testifying. Has Jamaica been sitting on its laurels? And even with its efforts to date, what are some of the implications and lessons we, both as individual Caribbean countries and a region as a whole, can learn?
What is Jamaica doing to arrest advance fee fraud?
At a breakfast forum organised by the Business Processing Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ) in late February, the Minister of Justice, Senator the Honourable Mark Golding, highlighted key efforts and initiatives implemented by the Government to address lottery scams/advance fee fraud:
- Establishment of a dedicated task force based in Montego Bay (where most of the fraudulent activity is alleged to originate) to tackle the situation directly. The initiative has begun to yield some success:
“The Anti-Lottery Scam Task Force carried out some 39 major operations last year, which seriously disrupted several criminal networks engaging in scamming. The task force recovered lead lists with approximately 1.2 million names; arrested 367 persons, charged some 100 persons for related offences, seized $32.6 million in cash [Publishers note: approximately USD 350,000], 121 motor vehicles, 124 computers, 577 cell phones, 30 magic jacks and two illegal firearms,” the Minister reported. (Source: Jamaica Information Service)
- Preparation of the Law Reform (Fraudulent Transactions) Special Provisions Bill 2013, which was passed in the Lower House of Parliament last week. A comprehensive piece of legislation that addresses matters ranging from possession of paraphernalia used in fraudulent activities, to sentencing and restitution to victims.
- Amendments to existing legislation to permit, among other things, asset forfeiture, confiscation of criminal property, and remote testimony by witnesses for court proceedings in Jamaica.
- Public education campaigns to increase awareness of advance fee fraud, its effects in the society, and the damage and consequences that can result.
Additionally, although the Senate hearing should occur as scheduled, senior government officials from Jamaica have been in the US to highlight the measures that have been implemented, as the video clip below shows:
Is it too late?
Advance fee fraud originating from Jamaica has been around for at least five years, but seems to have exploded in the last three years. The suite of legislative measures that the Government of Jamaica has, or is in the process of rolling out, appear to be aggressive, and seeks to address critical deficiencies that hindered successful prosecution and conviction in the past.
Although the legislation should better equip law enforcement with the necessary tools to secure convictions, and also act as a deterrent to others who might want to engage in such activities, the following ought to be considered:
- Teething of new legislation. The most substantial law to address scamming is the Law Reform (Fraudulent Transactions) Special Provisions Bill 2013, which is not yet fully enacted. However, when it is put into effect, which should occur in the coming weeks, it is possible that the Act might not have everything right. Shortfalls and loopholes might become evident, which could affect its effectiveness, and may require legislative amendments to be prepared to address deficiencies that may subsequently be identified.
- Crime sophistication. In our earlier telemarketing scamming post, the proceeds from Jamaican scamming were projected at USD 300 million a year. However recent reports have revised estimates to over USD 1 billion per year (Source: Huffington Post). Nevertheless, scamming, like the drug trade, is extremely lucrative, and the stringent measures that are now being implemented may cause criminals to be more creative and sophisticated in their approach, thus avoiding prosecution.
It is also instructive to consider that the hearing before the US Senate could lead to recommendations for sanctions to be instituted against Jamaica. Although sanctions might not be implemented, in light of the steps the Government has rolled out, it is sobering to consider that Jamaica has found itself in a similar position to Nigeria. In 1998, the US Congress introduced a Bill, Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud Prevention Act of 1998, to address the frequent instances of fraud originating from Nigeria. Although the Bill was never passed, it did include provisions for “imposition of economic and other sanctions on the Government of Nigeria” (GovTrack.us).
Finally, in light of the degree of negative publicity to which Jamaica is being subject, thanks to the scamming, in the short term it may be difficult to reverse unfavourable perceptions of the country, unless or until substantial crime reduction is realised. Having said this, the positive aspects of “Brand Jamaica” are still strong, but careful management of the country’s image internationally may be required in the longer term, to limit damage to the country’s reputation generally, and more specifically, as a place to do business.