Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Don't call if you are from Jamaica - Stigmatised and shunned - Scammers causing Americans to distrust calls with 876 area code

Published:Sunday | December 13, 2015 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones
American law enforcement officials escorting alleged lotto scammer 28-year-old Damion Barrett of Norwood, St James out of the island recently. Barrett is the first Jamaican to be extradited to the US to answer charges related to the lottery scam.

More and more Americans are starting to label Jamaicans as 'a bunch of scammers' and are refusing to accept calls from numbers which begin with the 876 area code.

The impact of the scammers label hit home painfully last week when The Sunday Gleaner attempted to contact Kent Coarsey, president and executive director of the Children's Alliance of Hawaii, in that American state.

"Do not call back this phone," was how Coarsey greeted the caller before terminating the call.

Five further attempts to reach Coarsey resulted in the phone either going unanswered or the line being open and the call terminated without a word being said.

On the sixth attempt, the line was left open just enough for our reporter to explain in detail the reason for the call.

But Coarsey was still very sceptical as he declared that he "would not be sending any money to Jamaica".

Only after a request that he should conduct an Internet search on The Gleaner and the reporter did Coarsey engage in a conversation, although it was obvious that he maintained his guard.

It was not until the interview was well under way that Coarsey relaxed and apologised profusely for his initial reaction.

"I feel very bad. I think I hung up on you five or six times. I will tell you why I was so apprehensive to talk to you," said Coarsey.

According to Coarsey, he and others in his organisation, which is mandated to provide care and support for sexually abused children, have received five to 10 emails daily from persons claiming to be Jamaicans or Nigerians, seeking to fleece money from them.

He said this forced the organisation to invest in a spam filter, blocking some emails.

Coarsey said in the emails persons would make claims, such as that they are related to some billionaire who died and they needed him to make contact and provide financial information so that billions of dollars could be released into his account.

"For the first time in months I got another of those emails today, and then your call, so I thought they were connected," Coarsey explained.

"This email said nothing about Jamaica, nothing about you at all, but it's rare to come through our spam filter.

"It's not like a fear but I am very wary to talk to somebody (from Jamaica) at great length about anything, as there is a whole world ... of scammers."

Coarsey's apprehension is multiplied across the United States, following media reports that Jamaican scammers target nearly 300,000 mostly elderly Americans annually.

US media reports estimate that persons duped by scammers send some US$300 million to the island annually.

This has prompted the US Embassy in Kingston to post an advisory on its website warning Americans about Jamaican lotto scammers and other schemes, including online dating services, inheritance notices, work permits/job offers, bank overpayments, non-existent BTA airline boarding fees, and even the appearance that they are helping a friend in trouble.

But despite this, Coarsey is not opposed to the idea of one day visiting Jamaica, as he had met two Jamaicans in the army who he said were very nice to him.

"It wouldn't stop me from travelling to Jamaica but it has made me very wary of taking someone's call from Jamaica," said Coarsey.

"Two images of Jamaica that I have is one, it is a tourist destination for Americans, and also poverty. So I am challenged when I travel to places like Mexico, where there is poverty just cross the street from this beautiful hotel that I'm in ... that kind of stuff bothers me."

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com