Counterfeiters' victims suffer in silence - Cops want more reports on fake notes
Hundreds of Jamaicans could be suffering in silence at the hands of scammers who capitalise on the public's failure to report counterfeit notes to the police.
Superintendent Anthony McLaughlin, head of the Fraud Unit at the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch (C-TOC), believes that embarrassment and a genuine fear of the legal system are among the main reasons why average Jamaicans opt to hold their losses instead of reporting to the police that they have been issued false notes.
"We have got a couple complaints from institutions this year. One gas station reported that they got two (counterfeit) $5,000 notes recently. The fact is that it may be widespread, but persons are not coming forward with it," said McLaughlin, explaining that most reports of counterfeit notes come from financial organisations and very few from individuals.
Explaining that scammers move from parish to parish disseminating the notes, the superintendent said greater public reports can aid sleuths' efforts to track down suspected individuals.
McLaughlin said counterfeiters customarily tender $500, $1,000, and $5,000 notes and that they seem to have been targeting gas stations, supermarkets, and lottery and remittance outlets since the start of the year.
Locations bereft of appropriate security apparatus to check notes are most at risk, he said, dissuading market vendors, in particular, from accepting the high-currency notes.
"If somebody in St James has the counterfeit notes, they will travel as far as Trelawny and St Ann to pass off those notes. And if they are going into Kingston, they are going to pass it on in Kingston also.
"What they are doing is covering their tracks so that you can't get back to them," said the superintendent, who himself was duped by one financial institution in the past.
Twenty-seven-year-old Jason Scott is one of the latest victims.
The Kingston resident told The Sunday Gleaner that, after receiving funds at an institution offering remittance services in St Andrew, he was surprised to find a counterfeit $1,000 note among real notes in the sum collected.
"Honestly, I didn't even count the money when I take it from the cashier because of the amount of times that she counted it before she gave it to me. And plus, I never expect to get no fraud money from them place there either," said Scott, his face creasing in surprise.
Scott works minimum wage and receives assistance from the mother of his three-year-old son who is away on farm work in Canada. The money was to go towards purchasing back-to-school supplies for the boy, and a missing $1,000 means a shortage "somewhere", he said.
"I waah know is what this pon me, right now. Why me?" bemoaned Scott, fearing he would be labelled a liar if he were to return the money to the financial institution or the police.
He showed the note to The Gleaner. It felt thicker, a feature McLaughlin said is common of counterfeit dollars, and the ink on it appeared to run.
It also had no distinguishable watermark embedded within it.
Last Tuesday, a supervisor connected to the financial institution where Scott said he received the note, said the location reported no customer complaints about it issuing any counterfeit notes, and that it was the first time that branch had come under scrutiny.
"However, we can recall a similar incident in the past where a customer claimed to have received a counterfeit J$1,000 at a branch that was just opened for business after receiving a float from the bank (legitimate source)," the supervisor said. "Our branches are equipped with money-counting machines; the majority with counterfeit detectors, and the branches are floated with cash from the bank."
The supervisor said representatives at the financial institution are trained in the area of fraud prevention and detection, and that training is an ongoing process.
Similar security mechanisms are implemented at JN Money Services, outlined Leesa Kow, general manager of that institution, last Tuesday.
"All financial institutions implement and maintain stringent and globally accepted measures for identifying counterfeit notes, which include rigorous training of employees and the use of special equipment and systems."
On Thursday, Scott accepted the responses offered by the financial institutions but speculated that a wayward employee, acting on his own, could have slipped it into the funds.
The theory is not far-fetched, explained Superintendent McLaughlin, who underlined that only the police can investigate such a theory.
McLaughlin said Scott should immediately report the note to the police or "Just burn it ... [as] tendering it is one thing, but once we find you with it, it's an offence. You can be charged for it."