Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
A RANKING member of the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging yesterday rapped Jamaica for failing to do enough in fighting the lottery scam, arguing that the efforts to combat the scourge should be comparable with the country's tourism marketing campaigns.
Senator Susan Collins who, along with committee Chairman Bill Nelson, made repeated calls for the extradition of Jamaican scammers, said the island should do more to stop lottery scamming.
"I think they are finally taking it seriously, but it has taken a number of years for them to do so and I would like to see them put the effort in this, in stopping this scam, as it puts (effort) into enticing Americans to come vacation in Jamaica. A lot of money is spent on that," Collins said.
The special select committee yesterday heard testimony from relatives of victims of the lottery scam as well as law-enforcement officials. The hearing followed the airing of a CBS documentary on the scam, and came a day after Jamaica's National Security Minister Peter Bunting met with Collins and Nelson.
PLAYING ITS PART
But Major William L. King Jr, chief sheriff's deputy in the York County, Maine Sheriff's Department, said Jamaica has been playing its part in the fight against the lottery scam.
"Jamaica does have a concerted strategy - increased operation, public education and legislation. I would have at least like to see us have a similar strategy. Perhaps we don't need the legislation, but at least have a strategic plan in place on how we are going to collaborate with the Jamaicans to get the information in a timely fashion," King said.
Senator Kelly Ayotte had questioned King on what efforts were being undertaken to put pressure on Jamaica to help fight the scam.
Meanwhile, Collins yesterday juxtaposed the image of Jamaica as an island paradise with that of it being a hotbed of fraudsters who target senior citizens in the US.
"I suspect that the Jamaican phone scam is one of the worst," Collins said.
She noted that to most Americans, Jamaica was a tropical paradise with beautiful white sand beaches, lush green mountains and vibrant sunshine.
"We have all seen those ads full of gorgeous scenery and upbeat music calling Americans to come and feel the spirit of Jamaica," she said.
Collins also said billions of dollars are spent yearly by millions of Americans who answer the call for a vacation on the island paradise, noting that the money is essential to the island's economy.
"But beneath the Jamaica of those enticing ads and the tourists' dreams lurks another Jamaica, one that brings nightmares to elderly Americans targeted by Jamaican criminals intent on swindling them out of their life savings.
She told the committee that an estimated 30,000 phone calls are made daily by Jamaican scammers, who she described as "masters of manipulation" who play to their victims fears and emotions "until they drain them of every dime".
Yesterday, Sandrea Falconer, the minister with responsibility for information, speaking during a Jamaica House press briefing, said the Government had been using public education as well as legislative and investigative tools to shut down the scam.
Falconer also shot down suggestions from the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party that the Government had not responded effectively to the lottery-scam crisis.
"Sometimes people say a lot because they don't know or they just have to talk because they want to be relevant," Falconer said.
"As a government, we are embarrassed when you hear the stories," she added.
Falconer pointed to instances of elderly persons in the US being scammed out of their life savings, noting that it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
"I know most Jamaicans are sensitive, empathetic and caring people and when we hear those things it is something that pulls at the heart strings. It is something that we should really be embarrassed about that there are Jamaicans among us who have no heart and who don't care and are willing to do anything to get money," Falconer said.