Business

Lottery scams unbounded

CAMILO THAME Business Co-ordinator thamec@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, November 07, 2012    

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TEN of thousands of calls are made daily from Jamaica into the US attempting to defraud American citizens, by one estimate.

Another reported that 30,000 Americans complained about Jamaican lottery fraud last year, up from less than 2,000 back in 2007.

Even then, up to 90 per cent of victims do not report that they have been scammed, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The US government agency conservatively estimated that US$82 million was scammed from American citizens, based on the 10 per cent that had reported the activity.

But it is an "exceedingly difficult task" to accurately measure the amounts defrauded, according to a recent study by Caribbean Policy and Research Institute (CaPRI).

"The nature of some of these transactions does not lend themselves to effective tracking, which in itself may be a motivator for this type of crime," said a summary on the report by CaPRI.

A website established in the US to raise awareness of the Jamaican lottery scam — www.bewareof876.com — reported that over 30,000 scam calls are made from Jamaica every day.

The website indicates that many of the calls were made to residents of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, but a representative from the US Postal Inspection Service Indicated that, victims are from all over the US from as far as Hawaii and while there may be pockets that have more victims there is no area that has not been targeted, according to CaPRI.

"The large frequency of reports suggests that the main focus of the scams is the east coast of the US, especially in areas where there are large Jamaican populations," said CaPRI. "The reach of these criminals, however, is not limited to any bounded space and the US and the UK may only be the popular targets due to the convenience of language."

But insufficient public information, and sometimes-guarded data, on the extent and reach of scams, which ask victims to make advanced payments for promised lottery winnings, suggests that assessments so far have been largely speculative.

"A lot of the information about the impact of the lottery scam that exists and the conclusions drawn have to based therefore on speculation," said CaPRI.

Nevertheless, the University of the West Indies, Mona-based organisation said that "the potential risk to Jamaica's reputation cannot be underestimated".

"The likelihood that persons will begin to view Jamaica and Jamaicans as some persons view countries that have a history of fraudulent activity does exist," said the report summary. "This kind of reputation could bring with it some strong negative effect on how international businesses view Jamaica as a place for investment."

The organisation recom-mended that an increased number of stronger legislation are needed to deal directly with this kind of fraud, and while banking and remittances regulation are more robust, they still require some improvement.

"This problem is unlikely to diminish unless adequate efforts are put in place to mitigate the incidence of this criminal activity," said CaPRI. "Due to the likelihood of further damage being done to the Jamaica's international image, more effort at understanding and dealing with the problem is called for."

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