MINISTER of National Security Peter Bunting says that Jamaica is beginning to see encouraging signs from its cooperation with United States authorities in stemming the lottery scam.
"We are starting to see some encouraging results from the collaboration," the minister said as he piloted the new Lottery Scam Bill, the Law Reform (Fraudulent Transactions) (Special Provisions) Act, 2013 in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Bunting is hoping that this collaboration will help to eradicate the scam, for which the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reportedly received about 30,000 complaints from American citizens in 2011.
The FTC said the figure is actually much higher, as it estimates that up to 90 per cent of the scams are unreported, as victims are too afraid or embarrassed to report them. The FTC also said the scam, and similar schemes, may be fleecing Americans out of US$1 billion annually, although it is illegal to play foreign lotteries from the United States.
On Friday, US Senator Bill Nelson met with law enforcement officials and victims' advocates in Miami, Florida to address the scams issue. Nelson and Senator Susan Collins of Maine, both of whom are on the Senate's Special Committee on Aging, have scheduled a March 13 hearing in Washington, DC, to further investigate the issue.
Bunting told the House of Representatives on Tuesday that he was aware that the actions of the scammers have been attracting increasing attention from the American media, as well as members of the US Congress.
However, he said that the most urgent issue is the effect of the violence generated locally by criminal gangs recruited by the scammers for protection, especially in the tourism capital of Montego Bay.
"The FBI says that there are 21 criminal gangs operating in Jamaica which are involved in the lottery scam. In fact, we have identified 17 gangs operating in St James, and they are all involved in some way, shape or form in lottery scamming," the minister said.
He pointed out that in 2012, the Jamaica Constabulary Force's (JCF) leadership in the north-western parish established that 40 per cent to 50 per cent of violent crimes there were related to lottery scamming.
Since then, however, Jamaica has been on the receiving end of a high level of cooperation from the US Government and its law enforcement agencies, as well as remittance agencies and financial institutions.
Bunting said that in 2012, the Major Organised Crime and Anti-corruption task force (MOCA) conducted 39 major operations, confiscating lists with 1.2 million names used by the scammers; arrested 367 persons; charged approximately 100 persons for related offences; and seized $33 million in cash and 121 motor vehicles.
In addition, he said that thousands of computers, cellular phones and magic jacks allegedly used by the scammers were also confiscated.
Also, he said, since this month, some US$200,000 collected by "confederates" in the United States to take back to local scammers have also been seized. Bunting advised, too, that scammers have started to transfer the value of the money they scam to jewellery, electronics and other valuables to evade detection.
He noted that prior legislative actions have included the Evidence (Special Measures) Act -- passed last year -- to allow for the use of visual links in trials, which could enable elderly Americans unable to travel to Jamaica for the trial to be examined by visual technology.
In addition, sections 35 and 46 of the Larceny Act have been included under the Proceeds of Crime Act to deal with persons obtaining money by false pretence or for receiving stolen property.
But given the difficulty in convicting scammers under existing legislation, the minister said that the Government has been forced to move with urgency to introduce the "lottery scam" bill.
"It is a comprehensive piece of legislation, which will create specific offences for lottery scamming and other current and emerging forms of fraud, which are enabled in no small measure by modern communications technology," he explained.
He said that the Government has also been addressing the issue in terms of public education, social intervention through the Community Security and Justice Programme and forums and workshops in inner-city communities affected by lottery scamming.
The Law Reform (Fraudulent Transactions) (Special Provisions) Act 2013 was tabled in the Senate last Friday and is to be debated next week.