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April 19, 2012

Jamaican Lottery Scams Spread Despite US Crackdown

Jamaican lottery scams spread despite US crackdown
By DAVID MCFADDEN
The Associated Press
April 17, 2012
MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica

The 88-year-old retired Coast Guard officer hadn't been outside the U.S. in decades. Yet phone calls started pouring in from Jamaica, dangling the prospects of huge winnings from an international lottery that he had won.
There was a catch, of course. He had to send a check to pay the tax on his winnings. He wired the money to Jamaica. Soon he was ensnared in a scam that may cost him his home in an assisted living facility outside Seattle.
"It's been heartbreaking," said Ruth Wilson, a Seattle woman trying to clean up the financial fiasco that she said has cost her frail parents about $250,000, nearly all of their retirement savings.
U.S. officials say that is just a tiny fraction that cross-border lottery frauds haul in each year, disproportionately from the elderly. The schemes are so entrenched in Jamaica that some American police departments have begun warning elderly residents to be wary of calls from Jamaica's 876 telephone code, which resembles the three-digit area codes used in the United States.
"These scammers are very persistent and in some cases verbally abusive, threatening to harm victims if they do not send money," said Maj. Bill King of Maine's York County Sheriff's Office, which late last month launched a campaign called "Beware: Scams from Area Code 876."
Police on the Caribbean island say there are visible signs of the fraud-spawned riches in the hot spot for the gangs, St. James parish, where some twentysomething Jamaicans from modest backgrounds are living very well for people without any obvious job or source of income. Three-story concrete mansions and luxury cars have increasingly popped up in the parish, which includes the resort city of Montego Bay.
The Jamaican and U.S. governments set up a task force three years ago to tackle the crime. But, if anything, the problem only seems to have gotten worse in Jamaica, where organized, violent gangs are deeply entrenched
Complaints from American citizens about Jamaican lottery fraud soared from 1,867 in 2007 to about 30,000 last year, and most incidents go unreported out of fear or embarrassment, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
The task force, led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has conducted about 400 investigations and made roughly 115 arrests. U.S. officials say they are receiving cooperation from the Jamaican government, but cases are progressing slowly.

 Abridged
SOURCE:        The Business Week

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