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Lotto scam retreats - Gov't, cops praised as threat to ICT sector eases

Published:Sunday | March 15, 2015 | 12:00 AMChristopher Thomas
President of the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica, Yoni Epstein
Davon Crump, chief executive officer of Global Outsourcing Solutions
Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams, the state minister in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce,


AFTER FEARING for several years that the lotto scam was an imminent threat to their survival, stakeholders in the information and communication technology/business process outsourcing (ICT/BPO) sector say the danger is now almost non-existent.

The diminution of the lotto-scam threat has been credited to the effectiveness of the near two-year-old Law Reform Fraudulent Transactions (Special Provisions) Act, which is aimed at crippling the activities of scammers.

Addressing a Gleaner Editors' Forum examining the viability of the Montego Bay Free Zone, president of the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ), Yoni Epstein, got nods of approval from fellow BPO stakeholders when he heaped praises on the police for what he described as their success in curtailing lotto scamming.

"Since the Lottery Scam Act and the Anti-Lottery Scam Task Force have been put in place, I would say we have seen a significant decline in lottery scamming," said Epstein.

"There are still issues, and it is not perfect ... but there has been a significant decline, and we do not see as many problems as we used to have and the clients are not asking as many questions as they used to."

During the heyday of the lottery scam, between 2006 and 2010, several major players in the sector pleaded with the Government to do something about the illicit scheme - a ploy used to dupe unsuspecting, mainly elderly American citizens out of millions of dollars.

Stakeholders argued that, left to flourish, the scam would destroy the ICT sector.

However, with the new law resulting in the arrest, charge and even extradition of scammers, Epstein said the Government deserves much praise for putting scammers on the back foot.

"There should be some note put to the Government that they have done a good job, and to the police force ... we have taken it from where it (lottery scamming) got to a high of extreme amounts of international press, to a low of not hearing about it," Epstein continued.

Davon Crump, the chief executive officer of Global Outsourcing Solutions, who has been one of the strident voices pleading for a sustained effort to stamp out the lotto scam, fully endorsed Epstein's sentiments.

"Prior to the legislation being passed, it was one of the hardest things to attract a client here, because we had to prove to them how secure their data was going to be," said Crump. "Lotto scamming is on the decline, and it is not as difficult now to convince a client that the country is safe."

Gloria Henry, the assistant vice-president of operations and client relations at the Montego Bay Free Zone, which is home to the ICT/BPO sector, said her organisation had also instituted security measures to reduce the instances of overseas client information falling into the hands of scammers.

"We have put measures in place through our own security department (at Montego Bay Free Zone) to ensure that the correct background checks are done, and we have gone ahead to facilitate on-site fingerprinting for free zone workers, and proper screening of people who are coming to work in the industry," said Henry.

In fact, based on the new law and the additional measures to safeguard the local ICT/BPO sector, Jamaica appears to be doing much better than some of the other countries involved in the BPO industry.

"I have gone to another country that is in large-scale BPO, and I have had my bags stapled, my pockets stapled, everything stapled before I could walk through the door, and all I was doing was looking at their operations," Henry stated in praising the local security system, which no longer requires such drastic measures.

"I went to another country, and they gave me a suit from head to toe to cover up to go into their operations, and all we were doing was looking as well."

Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams, the state minister in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, nonetheless conceded that more opportunities need to be created for young people so that they will not see scamming as an option.

"As a member of parliament, I believe that one of the things we must do is to develop a situation where people do not have to resort to crime in order to make a living," said Ffolkes-Abrahams.

"We have to provide jobs for the young people in particular. We have to hone their skills for the betterment of our country ... take them out and put them in training so they can have hope for the future."