Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter
The Jamaica Customs Agency is reporting victory in its fight against smugglers of items linked to cybercrimes and the infamous lottery scam.
Data provided by Customs show that between January 2011 and September 2013, there has been a significant dip in the number of what it described as "lotto scam-related items", as well as debit and credit cards seized by customs officers.
Customs believes there is a direct correlation between the dip in seizures and the collaborative effort of its officers, the police, and international law-enforcement partners.
"It must be noted that due to the sustained efforts of the Jamaica Customs, the JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force) and international law-enforcement agencies, significant success has been had in curtailing the importation of prohibited items associated with cybercrimes and the lottery scam, in particular," said Customs.
The data supplied by the customs agency showed that between 2011 and 2012, there was a 67 per cent reduction in the number of debit and credit cards seized by customs officers as the figure tumbled from 926 to 308.
FURTHER DECLINE LIKELY
It also seems that the customs agency is on pace to record a further decline this year, as up to late September, the total number of debit and credit cards seized stood at 194.
There was also a 63 per cent decline in category described as "lotto scam-related items".
The customs agency also pointed out that the JCF divisions charged with the responsibility of investigating organised crimes actively engage the agency so that it can "be in a better position to provide greater assistance to their investigation".
"The customs agency informs the officers, through intelligence bulletins, of the various trends and threats," the agency said in a written response to Sunday Gleaner queries.
Efforts to have the customs agency provide additional information on how the items seized are used in cybercrimes and the lottery scam were unsuccessful.
Attempts to get Customs to support its claim that there is a direct correlation between the reduction in the number of items being seized and the sustained efforts by the partners were also unsuccessful.
The data supplied by the customs agency came as part of a response to a claim made by a senior policeman attached to the Organised Crime Investigation Division (OCID) that ignorance on the part of customs officers was hurting the country's fight against crime.
During an interview late last month, Detective Inspector Warren Williams, head of the Communications, Forensics and Cybercrimes Unit at OCID, disclosed that certain pieces of equipment used by criminals to commit white-collar and cybercrimes get into the country because customs officers do not always know what they are to look out for.
Commissioner of Police Owen Ellington subsequently reprimanded the detective inspector for giving the customs agency a black eye.
Adrian Frater, News Editor
It appears that claims on the streets of western Jamaica that displaced lottery scammers are turning to armed robbery to generate the money needed to maintain their flamboyant lifestyle are true.
Police sources last week confirmed that they are now tracking some alleged scammers in connection with several gun crimes committed recently.
However, the cops could not say if these criminals are still involved in the scam that has bilked millions of dollars from unsuspecting foreigners.
"I don't know if they are moving away from scamming to robbery, but I do know that some of the criminals who have challenged us in recent gun battles have turned out to be men with lottery-scam antecedents," said Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Warren Clarke, the commanding officer for the police Area One, which covers the parishes of St James, Hanover, Westmoreland, and Trelawny.
This accords with information provided by a source familiar with the happenings in the criminal underworld in western Jamaica.
According to the source, with the illegal drugs trade and the lottery scam under intense pressure from the local police and their international counterparts, scammers are branching off into robberies.
"The law of the street is that every man must eat a food … . So with drugs getting a beating and scamming on the decline, robberies appear to be their next option," the source said.
"Some of the young thugs are cold … . They are not afraid to pop it and buss it (pull their guns and open fire)," added the source, explaining the spike in killings in western Jamaica in recent months.
WALKING HAND IN HAND
The police are blaming the spate of murders, including the more than 100 killings in St James since the start of the year, on criminal gangs spanning all four western parishes, and Sunday Gleaner sources say the scammers and gangsters are walking hand in hand.
"In the early days of the lottery scam, the scammers were targeted for extortion by gangs such as the Norwood-based Stonecrusher, and the Granville-based Killer Bees," said the source.
Those scammers who failed to comply were usually killed by the hardened criminal gang members.
Over time, the fearful scammers, mostly high-school students without the experience of the street thugs, caved in to the gangsters, providing them with money for high-powered rifles and ammunition, fast cars, and an extravagant lifestyle.
Some scammers joined these notorious gangs as a means of protecting themselves from rival scammers.
These educated criminals are a source of concern for the police, but Clarke told The Sunday Gleaner that he is not unduly worried.
"I am not at the point of worrying … . It is true that they are smarter, (but) it is sad that they have diverted their education to criminal practices," said Clarke.
"However, I am confident in the capacity of the police to find them and apprehend them," added Clarke.
He said despite the recent spate of shootings and robberies in St James and Westmoreland, he is standing by the police's crime-fighting strategies, which he believes will ultimately prevail.
"I think that our strategies are good and that they are effective. It is the tactics when the rubber hits the road that I am sometimes concerned about," said Clarke.
"I think we were having a reasonably good year until the month of July, when the murder rate nationally moved … to four per day … . However, as a result of some new strategies, we are now back down to two per day," said Clarke, who was promoted to the rank of ACP last week.
According to Clarke, the State remains in charge and the police are doing everything in their power to ensure that it stays that way.
"All is far from lost. In the last seven days, we have removed 12 firearms from the hands of criminals, seized 274 rounds of ammunition, taken in 82 wanted persons and persons of interest, and we have had six fatal confrontations with criminals," added Clarke.
He said the recent success shows the determination of the police to rid the four parishes of hardened criminals.
2006 - The lottery scam, a scheme to fleece unsuspecting foreigners of their money under the guise they were paying processing fees for a lottery they had won, started in Granville.
2006-2008 - Several St James communities awash with cash as more youngsters joined in the get-rich-quick scheme, which saw an estimated US$30 million flowing into Jamaica.
2008 - Police confirm that gangsters were targeting scammers through extortion as street violence, especially murder, escalated.
2008 - Kerry-Ann Graham, a 25-year-old former employee of a call centre in the Montego Free Zone, sentenced to three years at hard labour after being convicted for her role in the lotto scam.
2009 - The Jamaican Operations Linked to Telemarketing, a task force comprising local law-enforcement and their international counterparts, formed to tackle the lottery scam.
2011 - Government contemplates law to make it easier to prosecute lotto scammers
Law Reform (Fraudulent Transactions) Special Provisions Act 2013,
giving the police more power to prosecute persons involved in the
lottery scam, passed.