Remittance firms beef up security
Staffers face intimidation
Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
REMITTANCE COMPANIES have made more than 270,000 reports of suspicious transactions to the Financial Investigations Division (FID) since the start of the year.
Leesa Kow, president of Jamaica Money Remitters Association, told The Gleaner that the cost for security as a response to scamming activities was significant.
"It is horrendous the financial burden as well as the burden on the human resources," Kow said as she argued that the lottery scam has been a significant weight on the backs of remittance companies.
"We have had to have in place huge numbers of teams to sit down and vet transactions; that's all they do. They look at the patterns of the transactions, they look for linkages between the transactions and where the transactions are coming from and where they are going," Kow said.
Under the law, financial institutions are required to report suspicious transactions to the FID.
FID head Justin Felice said during a Jamaica National-hosted anti-lottery scam forum on Wednesday that his team was hard-pressed to analyse the huge volumes of suspicious transactions, especially with human-resource constraints and the fact that the information has to be processed manually.
"This amount of data takes significant amount of analysis and I don't think we are getting the best intelligence out of this data as I think we could," Felice said.
In the meantime, the remittance providers are claiming they have been forced to increase their security budgets as a result of the dangerous nature of the lottery scam.
"They don't play when it comes to threatening the staff members," Kow told The Gleaner.
She continued: "I have heard stories from some of our members where the scammers will come and show our front-line staff members a picture of their husband or their spouse or their daughter to say, 'Mek sure you pay out my funds or else'."
Kow told The Gleaner that companies have been forced to put in place systems which scrutinise the transactions being made. She said those additional security measures to clamp down on the use of remittance companies for illegal activities have put staff in the firing line of scammers.
"In one of my locations, I have had to provide security for a supervisor, just moving from the location to the parking lot," Kow said.
She added: "We have had to provide security for staff members going to and from their communities. I have been told of instances from some of our members where they have had to relocate staff altogether because of the level of threat that has come against them."
Asked whether there is complicity between workers in the remittance companies and scammers, Kow said the scammers have become so pervasive that companies have had to put in measures to monitor staff to make sure they are not involved.
"If they get involved, sometimes it is under duress. When you come from a community where the people know you and know where you work, sometimes they are forced (to get involved) out of fear for their own lives," Kow said.
She has, however, said that whenever there are indications of complicity, remittance companies move very swiftly to cure the mischief.
In August, Western Union International ordered its operators in St James to close their businesses until they implement security measures capable of combating the multibillion-dollar lottery scamming industry.