By Ramesh Sujanani
My first experience with a lotto scammer was around six years ago. A man brought into my cambio business two US-dollar banker's drafts, each for US$20,000, from a popular bank in the United States. They were designated cashier's cheques, and were payable to himself.
The paying Wachovia Bank was contacted and I could not get anyone there to deal with verification of those cheques; they simply did not supply information or verify over the telephone. I decided to take the first cheque, although both cheques had all the proper features, watermarks, and UV response.
There was no problem with the first cheque; it was paid. But Mr X, a week later, brought the other cheque and requested encashment. In both instances, he was given a Jamaican-dollar payment cheque in settlement. The second USD cheque 'bounced', with the information 'payment stopped'.
I thought, with concern, how can payment of a cashier's cheque be stopped? The answer: If it was identified as being fraudulent prior to payment, the bank, with written instruction, can decline payment (provided it was not already negotiated). In any event, this brought much debate as to whether a bank may stop payment of a cashier's cheque.
Thereafter, the police Fraud Squad tracked the individual to Granville Heights, Montego Bay, but could not find the person.
There was another incident where we caught a fraudster in action. A young man brought a cashier's cheque for $60,000 for encashment. This was a known client, and we had been doing business for two years, but not near the scale of this item.
With his agreement, we sent the cheque to the bank for payment, with the proviso that we would pay no money out until the cheque was cashed and our account credited. Then we questioned his source of funds.
The replies were reasonable. He was going to a college. The funds were for his tuition, books, accommodation and personal expenses. Who was the remitter? The answer: his aunt's husband, a person from Europe living in the USA, and quite well-to-do.
He would wait on his money a full four weeks while the cheque was cleared.
In two weeks, he called in, demanding his money, prematurely. He had to pay for his tuition, and needed part or all of his money. I called the bank to find out if the cheque had cleared the account, and was told yes, but I was referred to the security officer at the bank.
The officer told me that the cheque was paid in full and there was no intent to refuse payment. But the man whose name was on the cheque had reported being robbed. The German said he should not have sent the cheque, and requested that our bank return it. The bank could not do that, and the German was referred to a county prosecutor for action against the perpetrators.
Persons were told they had won a prize in Jamaica ($3.0m), and someone called from Jamaica to say, "Send two per cent for remittance, taxes, and other expenses, and the funds would be sent." One would ask, why not take it from the prize money and send the balance? The response was: This was against the procedure.
The police caught the young man the following day, and arrested and incarcerated him. I returned US$60,000 to the Asset Recovery Agency when I was assured the cheque was finally honoured.
But a small point: People win money and they do not know why, and are eager to collect? One dishonesty chasing another? This is why the scammers get away and few complaints are filed. Then some of their victims do not claim because the lottery they bought did not exist, and there is no evidence to convict the scammer. Others do not claim because they may be embarrassed at seeming careless with money.
Now, I am aware there are plans to draft new legislation against lottery scammers. But doesn't the Proceeds of Crime Act exist? Why not use that?
It is my opinion, irrespective of laws that you have, if you do not have adequate supporting evidence, you won't have a case you can successfully prosecute. Inevitably, the scammer will go free.
Ramesh Sujanani is a businessman. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.