Too many victims; eliminate scamming

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, February 05, 2017

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The bread of deceit is sweet to a man, but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel. — Proverbs 20:17




Undeniably, lotto scamming carries a stench. Its putrid consequences are a blot on Jamaica’s name abroad. Our police at all levels have told us over and over that a significant number of the murders and other violent crimes in the western part of the island are related directly or indirectly to the scourge of lotto scamming. It is time to cull this bull.


On Monday, January 23, 2107, this newspaper reported that one of the biggest alleged players in local scamming was extradited. The story said inter alia: "The police yesterday revealed that 27-year-old Lavrick Willocks, a St James businessman who was arrested on lottery scamming charges, was extradited to the United States last Thursday.


"Willocks, otherwise called ‘Lav’, and who lived at Tortuga Drive, Greenwood, St James, was wanted in the US for the offences of attempt and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering conspiracy.


" ‘Willocks is alleged to be one of the masterminds who ran a syndicate that defrauded several US citizens of over US$5 million in the illicit lottery scam. A warrant was subsequently issued for his arrest and extradition,’ the constabulary’s Corporate Communications Unit (CCU) said in a news release.


" ‘On Saturday, November 5, 2016, members of the Jamaica Fugitive Apprehension Team (JFAT) arrested Willocks at a hotel in Kingston and brought him before the Corporate Area Parish Court, where he waived his right to an extradition hearing and was ordered extradited,’ the CCU said.


Willocks’s guilt or otherwise will be decided soon. His friend Sanjay Williams, a convicted lotto fiend, got a 20-year sentence at the hands of a United States judge last December. I am glad. Good riddance to bad rubbish is my kindest wish for scoundrels like Williams. He and others like him have inflicted indescribable pain on thousands of greedy and gullible victims, scores of whom have committed suicide.


The tragic accounts below speak to how lotto scamming has wrecked the lives of thousands of mostly old, desperate and overly trusting people. They are tales of unmitigated cruelty. Instead of the "milk of human kindness", scammers seemingly have ice water running through their veins.




"One victim, who didn’t wish to reveal her identity, wants to warn others.


" ‘Don’t fall for the scheme,’ she warned.


"For her, it all started with a letter, complete with what appeared to be an authentic Publisher’s Clearing House logo, claiming she won US$2 million


" ‘I thought this has to be valid,’ she said. ‘This is just going to set me up for the rest of my life.’


"But it came with a catch. To claim the prize she would have to send about US$7,400 to cover ‘processing, shipping, and handling fees’.


"She sent the money, but her jackpot never appeared. Instead, she was bombarded with phone calls asking for more money.


"This was a very smooth-talking man, and he called me sweetie and said he was a minister, she said.


"Chris Irving, with Publisher’s Clearing House, said they’ve joined law enforcement to shut the operations down.


" ‘These scam artists think they are safe offshore,’ he said. ‘We hope the message is: you’re going to be arrested, you’re going to be convicted if you continue to do this.’


"Some cases have been so severe that victims have been driven to suicide.


"Alberto Poland, an 82-year-old from Tennessee, was told he won the Jamaican lottery. Over years, he sent tens of thousands of dollars to scammers. Last March, after being asked for more money, he killed himself.


"The calls kept coming, recorded by his devastated family.


" ‘My word is my bond, so when we come over with your US$2.5 million and your car, it’s going to be delivered directly to your doorstop,’ the scammers said.


"The family of the victim continues to cope with the tragic loss.


" ‘They took my life. When they took him they took my life, too,’ widow Virginia Poland said."


This was broadcast on a US Station,
CBS2 News last year. This kind of story does not make the job of our hard-working Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett easier.




Those who maintain that lotto scamming is justified, and the ill-gotten proceeds are equivalent to reparations for trans-Atlantic slavery, have sand in their cranium. Scammers are clinical in their foul deeds. These excerpts from a report entitled ‘Jamaica lottery scam bilking senior citizens out of millions’, were published in the
Portland Press Herald on March 9, 2013. The story noted, among other things: "It’s impossible to say how many seniors have been duped by the sophisticated crime ring. Phishing for victims, the scammers call senior citizens advising them they’ve won a prize such as a car or a large amount of money.


"Many eventual victims start off sceptical, but are slowly convinced by the steady stream of calls from other people at legitimate-sounding offices, all of whom assure them the prize is real. All they need is an initial payment — a fee to cover taxes or other costs.


"Gradually, the scammers build the victims’ trust as they ask for more and more money as well as access to personal information.


"Although there are many scams targeting senior citizens, the lottery scams originating in Jamaica have become big business. With an estimated 30,000 calls a day to the US, Jamaican authorities have pegged it as a $300-million industry run by gangs and organised crime units.


"Working with FairPoint Communications, King has identified nearly 200 victims so far, with an average loss of about US$70,000. They also believe that only about 10 per cent of victims come forward, with most staying silent about their losses due to shame or fear of losing their financial independence.


"The losses are enough to make one gasp.


* US$700,000 stolen from an Eagle Lake area woman.


* US$140,000 taken from a woman in Cape Elizabeth.


* US$80,000 scammed from a Biddeford victim.


* US$85,000 stolen in dribs and drabs from Nichols’ father, who lives in New Hampshire.


"But the human toll of those financial losses is even worse.


"The health of the victims — most already well into their supposed golden years — often sharply deteriorates as the scam drags on. The Biddeford woman who lost US$80,000 was forced to leave Maine and move in with relatives out west because of her failing health.


"The scammers cultivate seemingly deep relationships with the often-widowed or solitary seniors by calling to check on them at night, on holidays, or during stormy weather. They pose as friends, confidants, and even potential romantic interests, all the while ostracising victims from their real families.


"In one instance, a woman found her elderly family member dressed up and waiting near the door of her home. The contact had promised to take her out to dinner at a local restaurant where she would finally receive a cheque for her winnings. Of course, neither the man nor the cheque ever materialised."


"They also cajole, harass and intimidate."


"Scammers have called one home as many as 40 to 50 times in a day. They’ve arranged for plumbers or taxi drivers to drop off prepaid cellphones to seniors whose families have changed their phone numbers. One brazen scammer, feigning concern for his supposed friend or relative, even called New Hampshire police asking for an officer to check on Nichols’ father.


" ‘They’re brutal to people,’ said Jeff Nevins, spokesman for FairPoint. ‘They threaten them and they basically scare people. This is a professional operation. They know what they are doing and they know how to work a person.’




‘Scammers’ only loyalty is the greenback’ is a story which was broadcast by
WSMV, a news entity in Nashville, Tennessee, on October 8, 2015:


"The criminals may be thousands of miles away, but the consequences are being felt in middle Tennessee.


"A Jamaican lottery scam is taking an especially hard toll on the elderly.


It went on to say that, as authorities raided the scam artists’ headquarters in Jamaica, "They tried to destroy the evidence showing they had been preying on the elderly and the lonely.


"Their victims believe they had just won the Jamaican lottery. To claim their prize they were told they had to first turn over hundreds of dollars for taxes and fees.


"One of the victims was Albert Pollan from the Knoxville area.


" ‘People were calling him, telling him he’d won a Mercedes full of money,’ said Chris Pollan, the victim’s son.


"Pollan’s family contacted the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Middle Tennessee, but no one could convince Albert Pollan to stop spending money.


" ‘He would become very angry if the family tried to intervene,’ said Kathleen Calligan with the BBB. ‘He was suffering from dementia, had some other health problems.’


"After years of payments, the promise of a $3-million prize continued to elude Albert Pollan. In March, he committed suicide.


" ‘They took my life,’ his widow said. ‘We were married 62 years. And when they took him, they took my life, too.’


"There is a fear that the scammers prey on people they know are elderly or impaired, using information bought from identity thieves."




Lotto scamming continues to spread despite praise-worthy successes by the police and the Jamaica Defence Force to thwart its operations. It is now a veritable Frankenstein. Who gave birth to this crime monster?




A
CNN documentary named the late Kenley "Bebe" Stephenson as the "godfather of scamming in Jamaica". Stephenson got a hero-like funeral. A
Gleaner story, entitled ‘PNP exec ‘Bebe’ laid to rest’, published on June 23, 2014, told the awful tale. The story said, among other things: "People’s National Party (PNP) executive and popular Montego Bay figure Kenley ‘Bebe’ Stephens was yesterday laid to rest after two thanksgiving services in St James.


"One of the funerals was held at the Holy Trinity Zion Church and the other at the Granville Deliverance Centre.


"Stephens, also known as Kenrick Stephenson, was shot dead last month.


"The police had described him as a major player in the lottery scam operations in Montego Bay.


"Stephens also served as vice-chairman of the PNP’s West Central St James constituency.


"Reverend Juavene Guthrie, the assistant pastor at Holy Trinity, broke down in tears after reading a congratulatory card that was given to her by the deceased following her pastoral appointment some time ago.


"At the second funeral at the Granville Deliverance Centre, Government members Derrick Kellier and Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams said Stephens was selfless and recalled his contribution to his community and the PNP.


"In honour of the fallen Comrade, the councillor for the Granville Division Michael Troupe announced the establishment of a scholarship for a student living in Granville."


The PNP needs to hold its head in constant shame for this monumental episode of betrayal of public trust. Those public figures who attended this funeral, at a minimum, should be disqualified from running for public office.


Members of Parliament who attend the funerals of known gangsters, euphemistically sometimes called community leaders, must not grace the halls of Gordon House in the new dispensation of politics which is needed to take this country forward.


I am heartened that the Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck has indicated that as soon as the extradition orders come before him and all documents are in order, he will sign.


Minister, you have my support on that one. The miscreants involved in lotto scamming must feel the full weight of the law, whether locally or internationally. These rogues must have no hiding place.


Recently, I read an article by a family historian, Alli Joseph. She pointed out that in Cuba there is little domestic violence. Why? In Cuba the minimum penalty for assaulting a woman is 20 years in prison. If it’s a young girl, it’s a lifetime.


I believe lotto scammers, on conviction, should be given mandatory life in prison. Time to end the pussyfooting with individuals who are committing crimes similar to treason.





Never was anything great achieved without danger. — Niccolò  Machiavelli





Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or
higgins160@yahoo.com.

 


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