Student scammers, Western Jamaica students caught in the tentacles of the multimillion-dollar lottery rip-off

Published: Sunday | October 25, 2009

Tyrone Reid, Sunday Gleaner Reporter


SCORES OF students in western Jamaica are fast joining the ranks of scammers in the illicit, highly organised, multimillion-dollar lottery-scam operation, and many of the boys and girls are doing the scamming at school.

The problem is compounded by some parents who are encouraging their children to scam as they are benefiting from the spoils.

Miranda Sutherland, president of the National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica (NPTAJ), said, "Parents admit that it is wrong but it is a means of income."

She said her association understands that the children have become the breadwinners in some of the families.

"So they, in fact, encourage them into it. The parents are saying that they are able to buy books and other things for school," she said.

According to Sutherland, the parents have lost their moral compass. She has called on the police and all the child-centric agencies to join with the NPTAJ to eradicate the scourge. "This thing is really an infestation," she said.

At the same time, Sutherland said the NPTAJ plans to bring its 'Speak Out' series to St James to help find solutions for the problem.

Dealing with problem

When contacted on Friday, Colin Blair, director of communication in the education ministry, said the ministry was putting measures in place to deal with the problem without giving specifics.

However, up to press time, Blair had not indicated what, if anything, the ministry has done to tackle the problem.

The scam, which sucks millions of dollars out of the hands of unsuspecting foreigners, has spread across the western section of the island and claims victims mainly from the United States and Europe.

According to school guidance counsellors in western Jamaica, boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 17 are leaving the classroom or losing interest in school as they move into the con game.

Superintendent Fitz Bailey, head of the Organised Crime Investigation Division, confirmed that some students are dropping out of school and many others who choose to stay in classes are making the calls from the school compound.

"Yes, students are involved and they are very bold with it. They don't hide," the senior cop said. Under the cover of school, the students conduct their illicit lottery-scam activities using their cellphones, a guidance counsellor from a popular high school in St James, who asked not to be named, told our news team.

Worrying trend

The involvement of these children in the lottery scam is particularly worrying for the police as "the game" is a bloody business.

Already, several lives have been snuffed out as scam hustlers jostle for clients and cash. Superintendent Bailey says the scam has "contributed significantly to our crime rate in terms of murders".

"They are losing interest in school, so that is a grave impact because we are going to have a generation of young men and women who have no value about hard work," said the guidance counsellor who requested anonymity.

She explained how the scam operates from within the confines of the educational institution.

A list containing the names and numbers of prospective victims is given to the students who use mobile phones to make the calls. The students usually find a secluded spot, such as bathroom stalls, on the school compound to conduct their illegal deeds.

She also pointed out that some students are constrained to make the calls at schools because of time-zone differences. Others who attend schools with a shift system rush home to make the calls.

Rosalee Hamilton, guidance counsellor at Green Pond High School, said while she has not unearthed a specific case of involvement at her school, members of the faculty theorise that students at the school are involved.

Hamilton blames the communities for the students who are sucked into the deadly vacuum of scamming.

"The magnitude of the situation out of the school setting is very high and I don't think the schools are being spared," she said.

Hamilton divulged that the high level of secrecy among the students hinders any attempt mounted by the administration to finger those who are scamming.

Students involved

While not being able to identify specific students, the guidance counsellor believes students from grades 10 and 11 are the ones involved with the scam.

"What I realise is that the interest that is normally there for some students is not there anymore. I guess because they are making money, to them that is the most important thing now, so the interest in school will (decline) then you would hear that that's what they are in."

Rosette James, president of the St James chapter of the Jamaica Association of Guidance Counsellors in Education, told The Sunday Gleaner that the topic has come up for discussion at chapter meetings and during casual conversations among the professionals.

She pointed out that needy students from the more deprived communities are usually the ones who are recruited to conduct the scams.

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