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Mail, money and murder - Postal service under pressure as scammers move in

Published:Sunday | November 11, 2012

Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter

Threats, trickery and a possible explanation for the abduction and murder of two postal services workers have started to emerge as The Sunday Gleaner probes the use of the postal service by scammers.

While there is yet no official link between the scammers and the killing of the two workers, officials of the postal service have confirmed that its employees have recieved threats from the scammers who want to use the mail system to collect the millions of dollars they fleece from foreigners.

But this has not stopped the operations of the 341-year-old Postal Corporation of Jamaica.

Jamaica's postmaster general, Michael Gentles, told The Sunday Gleaner that the postal service had to temporarily shut down one of its post offices because of threats issued by lotto scammers against the life of a postmaster.

As the Jamaican authorities crack down on the lottery scammers' use of remittance services to collect funds fleeced from victims overseas, the scammers have turned to the postal service to continue their illicit operations.

Packages increase

The department is reporting an increase in the number of packages containing thousands of US dollars being intercepted at the Central Sorting Office (CSO) by the country's border-protection agents.

Statistics obtained from the Customs Department revealed that between January 2010 and October 2012, some 1,149 pieces of inbound mail and 216 outbound parcels were tagged as suspect based on a profile developed by the border-protection agents to prevent the scammers from cashing in on their con.

The packages intercepted during that 34-month window contained cash, cheques, money orders and other monetary instruments to the tune of US$2.02 million (J$183.5 million) and £2,140.

Gentles said the use of the postal service by the scammers dates back a few years, but there was a calm which has been disturbed in recent times.

"There was a point when it was very regular, then there was a lull. Apparently

they turned to the remittance services at that time," said Gentles who confirmed that thousands of US dollars where found attached to the pages of a Time Magazine sent via airmail.

The postmaster general also told The Sunday Gleaner that the customs officials at the CSO seized US$30,000 in the space of 24 hours in two separate envelopes addressed to the same person.

Raised worry

The increase
in the use of the postal services by the scammers has raised worry about
the safety of staff members who really have nothing to do with the
seizures because the parcels are searched and intercepted by customs
officers.

"We had to close down a post office out west
temporarily because of threats issued to the postmaster at the
location," Gentles revealed.

The postmaster general
told our news team that the postmaster's life was threatened four years
ago because a package was delivered to a person who provided a driver's
licence showing that their name was on the package, but not too long
after the parcel was collected, another man showed up with an ID bearing
the same name claiming that the parcel belonged to him.

"It caused an
argument. The postmaster had to be removed from her post and relocated
for her safety. We work very closely with the police to solve these
problems," he said.

Two members of staff, including
the deputy chief of security, have been murdered since the start of the
year. The deputy chief of security, Barrington Davis, and a female
companion were reportedly abducted from his home in St John's Heights,
in St Catherine on August 29. Their badly decomposed bodies were found
in a cane field near Innswood Estates, in St Catherine, on September
16.

Nearly a month later, the burnt and decomposing
body of the department's 32-year-old public relations officer, Tandy
Lewis, was found along the road to Port Royal in
Kingston.

Snail mail means

Cassel
Dunkley, senior supervisor in the border protection unit at the Jamaica
Customs Department, told The Sunday Gleaner that
because of the pressure being applied on the remittance end, the
scammers have returned to the much slower snail mail means of getting
their ill-gotten proceeds into the country.

Dunkley
also pointed out that in the latter part of 2009 there was an influx of
packages containing loads of foreign exchange and 95 per cent of them
were addressed to someone living in the western end of the country in
the parishes of St James, Hanover and
Westmoreland.

The remaining five per cent of the mail
flagged as suspicious were addressed to persons living in Kingston,
Mandeville and Portland.

He said that only 10 per cent
of the total dollar value in seized incoming mails, proved to be
legitimate. This was determined after interviews were conducted with the
persons who sent or were to receive the
parcels.

Because of the keen attention being paid to
scammers operating in the hub of the illegal activity - Montego Bay -
scammers from out west have been travelling miles to the CSO in Kingston
to collect the money they have swindled from their victims. "We have
seen now that persons have been migrating from the western region - one
person came in from Hanover to collect his package," said
Dunkley.

"When we process the mails based on a certain
profile we have developed, we do not want to hold up the mail, so we
process it and send it to the western region and then we have our
counterparts collect them and detain them. The recipients are then
contacted and given a letter (explaining that their parcel has been
detained). Ninety per cent of the time they don't come for it when they
realise what they have to do to collect," Dunkley
revealed.

The largest sum seized by the
border-protection agents, so far, at the CSO is US$25,000. "That case is
before the court. We had an operation that resulted in the arrest of
the person, who was from Mandeville," said
Dunkley.

Other packages containing US$13,000 and
US$15,000 have also being intercepted by the customs officials working
out of the CSO.

Dunkley believes the scammers are
becoming increasingly desperate and are using every channel available to
get the money they have fleeced from victims into their hands. "They
are not just using the postal service but courier services as well.
Every conduit that they can use as a means to collect the money they
will use but some more than others," he
explained.

  • Suspect packages intercepted by customs officials

January-December 2010

Inbound: 248
Outbound: 0
Dollar value: US$511,732.79

January-December 2011

Inbound: 685
Outbound: 216
Dollar value: US$811,481
£2,140

January-October 2012

Inbound: 216
Outbound: 0
Dollar Value: US$692,677.30
J$104,000