Janet Silvera Senior Gleaner Writer
Western Union International has ordered its operators in St James, Jamaica to close their businesses until they implement security measures capable of combating the multibillion-dollar lottery scamming industry.
The 14 locations situated in the tourism capital, Montego Bay, were given closure notice between last Friday and Saturday.
They will remain closed for a minimum of two weeks, said the instruction. GraceKennedy Money Services holds the Western Union franchise for the Caribbean.
Customers may use other Western Unions in the neighbouring parishes of Hanover and Trelawny.
Lottery scamming has placed Jamaica in the spotlight, as thousands of persons report being fleeced by several masterminds based in the island.
The scammers are known to use the services of the money transfer company. In response to the closure, GraceKennedy Money Services, vice-president of marketing, Noel Greenland, read a statement to The Gleaner from Western Union International.
The statement said: “As the leader in global payment services, Western Union is dedicated to providing consumers fast, reliable and convenient money services around the world.
Jamaica is an important market for the company, at this time the Western Union money transfer services are not available in the parish of St James.
Affected customers may contact our customer centre in Jamaica at 1888-991-2056 or in the US at 1800-325-6000. They may visit neighbouring parishes however to complete their transactions.”
In June 2011, The Gleaner reported that high-ranking officials at the United States Embassy in Kingston believed Jamaican lottery scammers fleeced an estimated J$2.5 billion from their victims in 2008 alone.
So massive were the illegal swindling operations that the Americans had to fly special agents and dedicated analysts to Jamaica in a bid to combat the scammers.
The multibillion-dollar figure was contained in a sensitive diplomatic cable sent from the Kingston post on January 6, 2009 to senior operatives in Washington, DC.
Some 600 murders have also been linked to lottery scamming in the last five years, Police Commissioner Owen Ellington told the Montego Bay business community during a forum at the Ritz Carlton Rose Hall in May this year.
Both the commissioner and president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica at the time, Joseph M. Matalon, blamed scamming for not only tarnishing Jamaica’s image, but threatening the fledging call centre industry which was being undermined by the perpetrators.