IDENTITY thieves ravaged the bank account of a prominent Jamaican senior citizen, hitting it 38 times over one weekend recently.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars were extracted from the account of former president of the Jamaica Football Federation, Locksley Comrie, when his debit card was cloned, a situation that has pushed him against the ropes as he now struggles to survive.
To compound the problem, there has been bad blood between Comrie and the bank which holds the account, as the institution had initially, in the victim's view, not been co-operating. Things have apparently improved since Comrie retained the services of one of Jamaica's prominent lawyers, he told the Jamaica Observer in an exclusive interview last week.
Not only was money withdrawn from the account, but several point-of-sale transactions were made against his account between May 18 and 19. Comrie only found out that something was amiss when he went to withdraw money from the account on May 20.
"There was no money in the bank account when I went there," Comrie told the Sunday Observer.
Cash withdrawals were made from four Automated Teller Machines (ATM), and business conducted at point-of-sale locations in wider Portmore, St Catherine, with a heavy concentration on the Port Henderson section of the populous community.
"Can you imagine that? I can count how many times I have been to Portmore or Port Henderson area," Comrie said.
The money deposited to his account represented proceeds from the sale of Comrie's Nissan Bluebird motor car mere days before, as he made plans to pay bills and "stretch things a bit", by investing the money, following his failed attempts at getting a full-time job in Jamaica for more than eight years.
Comrie, a civil and structural engineer, said that he is the only transportation planner in Jamaica. However, for reasons unknown to
him, getting a job has proven to be his biggest challenge.
The bank is one of the leading profit makers in the region, but Comrie seems not too impressed with how it has dealt with his case.
"Jamaicans don't have a real bank ... not even a blood bank. Everyday I was at the bank, one time I even went there six times in one day and they kept telling me that there was nothing they could do," he said.
"They even told me that for three weeks they were waiting on pictures of people using the ATM," he said.
"I went home and read the Bible, second Timothy chapter 3, because my initial inclination was to go to the bank and strip myself like some of the ladies do when they go to protest their light bills," added Comrie, who founded the Caribbean Football Union with fellow Jamaicans Winston Chung-Fah and Dr Paul Wright in 1978.
But the bank apparently showed more interest when Comrie went there with his boyhood friend, attorney-at-law K Churchill Neita, on his last visit. He sought and got audience from the bank's hierarchy.
"When Churchill stepped into the bank, it was like a minute's silence was being observed. We had a meeting and were told that the bank had got back three of nine pictures from one ATM and none of them had me in them," he said.
"It was then that they agreed to give me back 'a change'. I have been suffering throughout the period. My electricity was cut off and I have no place to store my insulin for the treatment of my diabetes. I can't pay my phone bill nor my water bill. The children from Boys' Town, who I send to high school and university, are also affected.
An official of the bank admitted that there was a breach in security of Comrie's personal account, but declined to divulge much information.
The senior manager, who spoke on condition that his name is not mentioned in this article, said that identity theft was affecting almost every financial institution in Jamaica, adding that Comrie's case, though unusual regarding the regularity of the transactions over the period, was among an increasing trend of skulduggery.
"We are looking into the matter and hope to have it settled soon," the official said.
For Comrie, a devout Moslem during the 1970s when he acquired the name Omar Shabazz, the matter could have been handled better if the bank's initial response was different.
"It's not fair. The bank should have seen from its system of monitoring that something was going wrong that weekend," he said.
Neita, in an initial reaction early last week, confirmed that he was representing Comrie on the matter, which he hopes will be resolved soon.
"It's a terrible thing that happened to Locksley, I am hopeful that things will end well," Neita said.
Last year, former head of the Fraud Squad, Senior Superintendent Clifford Chambers, told the Sunday Observer in an interview that identity theft was rising rapidly.
"The biggest issue right now is identity theft. It is big. It's not because of money, but because of the implications that it has on a person. It's like taking over one's persona," said Chambers, who now heads the Organised Crime Investigation Division.
"Persons who do not effectively secure their PIN (personal identification number) are susceptible to that. There was a system whereby they would put some kind of device at some of these machines to capture your PIN when you enter it. What we find is that the reconfiguration of some of the ATMs [now] guard against that," Chambers said.
Police statistics revealed that there were 549 reported cases of fraud in 2010, 574 in 2011, and 602 last year. There is an average clear-up rate of 44 per cent, although in 2011 the clear-up rate was 68 per cent. A cleared-up matter is one in which an arrest has been made.
Fraud-related complaints, according to the police, amounted to over $2 billion in the last four years, and more than US$6.5 million over the same period.
Police believe that many of the identity theft activities are spearheaded by criminal deportees, judging from previous arrests of such individuals.
The Fraud Squad had earlier reported that it received between six and eight such complaints each week.