We can't allow lottery scammers to destroy Ja's good name

Friday, April 20, 2012

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For many years in the 1980s, Jamaica's good name was smeared by violent drug gangs, known as "posses", that wreaked havoc in North America and the United Kingdom.

Their ruthlessness made them infamous and their quick resort to murder struck fear in the hearts of many people here and abroad. It took a lot of brave effort by the Jamaican police, in co-operation with our international law enforcement partners, particularly in the United States and Britain, to crush many of those gangs.

All law-abiding Jamaicans are grateful for that effort, because each time we travelled to those countries we were automatically viewed with suspicion by immigration and customs agents who are rightfully protecting their borders.

There still exists, of course, remnants of that perspective of Jamaicans, as some of the lawless are still among us. However, we get the impression that border protection agencies overseas are mostly convinced that the good among us far outnumber the bad.

Since 1998 when the Reggae Boyz qualified for the FIFA World Cup Finals, Jamaica's name has been growing in stature, and the exploits of our athletes at international events, especially the Beijing Olympics and the World Championships in Berlin, have added to the growing respect and admiration for our island.

Add to that the achievements of our artists, musicians, scholars, professionals and a number of private sector companies in various sectors and you will get a feel for why Brand Jamaica has become so powerful.

But all that hard work and achievement are being threatened now by the actions of a few people known as lotto scammers.

We are told in an Associated Press report published in this week's Business Observer that complaints from American citizens about Jamaican lottery fraud soared from 1,867 in 2007 to about 30,000 last year.

That is a frightening escalation, especially when one takes into consideration the US Federal Trade Commission's (FTC's) revelation that most incidents go unreported out of fear or embarrassment.

The AP quoted the FTCs Midwest region director Mr C Steven Baker as saying: "We have a massive, massive problem and everyone knows it."

He is, of course, absolutely correct. For there is no other way to describe this fraud which, the FTC estimates, is bilking Americans out of a staggering US$1 billion a year, if not more.

The fact that the lotto scam is being operated by organised, violent gangs whose members, in furtherance of their fraud, threaten to burn down elderly victims' homes or rape their grandchildren if they don't keep sending money, has made the problem even worse.

Just as worrying is the fact that the scam continues to thrive despite arrests and seizures of money and property by collaborating Jamaican and US law enforcers.

We therefore support the plan announced by Government junior minister Mr Julian Robinson yesterday to strengthen legislation in order to give law enforcers more teeth to effectively deal with this problem.

Minister Robinson's announcement of a public education campaign targeting teenagers and addressing the dangers of the scam is also a good idea. We hope it will be long-term, as the lottery scam culture is deeply ingrained in the minds of these youngsters, and getting them to shun it will take time.

We cannot afford not to move decisively on this problem, for as Police Commissioner Owen Ellington was reported as saying, "Jamaica is getting a very bad reputation abroad as a nation of scammers."




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