Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer
With evidence indicating that Jamaica lottery scammers are continuing to run rampant in at least three American states, two United States (US) legislators are considering bringing the multibillion-dollar industry to the attention of Congress.
The disclosure has come from a US law enforcement official in the state of Maine who told The Gleaner that the lottery scam bilked more than US$13 million (approximately J$1 billion) from nearly 200 elderly victims in three states over a seven-month period last year.
Major William King Jr of the York County Sheriff's Office in Maine said the 186 victims, who lost an average US$70,000 (J$6.5 million) each, were from the states of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
The staggering numbers now have political leaders in Maine, including US Senator Susan Collins and Congressman Mike Michaud, turning to the US Congress to come up with measures and commit resources to tackle the growing scam.
King said Collins, the top Republican on the Senate Special Committee on Aging, indicated during a recent meeting that she would seek to have the Jamaican lottery scam discussed in the Congress, though no time frame was given.
"I think Senator Collins is considering having some congressional hearings. That was one of the reasons why we met with her, just to tell her that this is a huge problem," King said.
"Congressman Michaud is considering the same thing. He is considering trying to get some more resources directed at this problem," he added.
But King told The Gleaner on Monday that the US$13 million siphoned off by Jamaican scammers could be just the tip of the iceberg.
He pointed out that the figure was based on complaints received by his office and FairPoint Communications, a telephone company based in Maine.
"And that's just one phone company. There is a lot of phone companies in Maine and within the three states," he noted.
King said the "Jamaican phone scam" was a "huge problem" in Maine and said his office did not have the necessary resources and staffing "to tackle this problem the way it needs to be tackled".
"Every week I learn of one or two people who have been victimised," he pointed out.
King was also at a loss to explain why his state was being targeted.
"I don't know why it is so bad in Maine, maybe it's because we have the oldest population in the country," he asserted.
Speaking during a recent press conference in Maine, King said when his department started getting calls about the Jamaican lottery scam two years ago, they followed the leads in one case which took his investigators to the Caribbean.
However, he said when his investigators arrived in the Caribbean they encountered a lack of laws to prosecute phone scammers and his office had to shift its strategies from enforcement to education.
Last week, Jamaica's National Security Minister Peter Bunting announced that the Law Reform (Fraudulent Transactions) (Special Provision) bill or the proposed new lottery scam laws could be passed in March.
Bunting said the proposed legislation would be tabled in the House of Representatives next month and he expects it to be passed before the end of the fiscal year.
He said in addition to millions of dollars in cash and several luxury vehicles, the Lottery Scam Taskforce confiscated lists with the names of just over one million potential victims in the US last year.