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.
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.
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