Update | Lotto scam link-up
Fraudsters, gangs expand empire, amass gun arsenal
The lottery and other spin-off scams continue to be a lucrative feeding tree for Jamaica's underworld, with criminal actors forging wider alliances with multiple gangs to expand their empire, a senior police official has disclosed.
And the police have said that, increasingly, deep-pocketed scammers in the western end of the island are using their ill-gotten loot to stock up on illegal guns and ammunition.
“How we know this is because every year we recover far more than the year before and far more than any other police division islandwide,” Assistant Commissioner Clifford Chambers, commanding officer of the Area One police, told The Gleaner on Tuesday.
Area One comprises the parishes of Trelawny, St James, Hanover, and Westmoreland.
In St James alone, 112 illegal guns have been seized by the police since the start of the year, compared to 98 for all of 2020 and 86 in 2019, police statistics show.
Nearly 10,000 rounds of ammunition were also seized over the three-year period.
Advance fee or lottery scam and mail fraud are the two main schemes used by Jamaican fraudsters to fleece mainly elderly Americans.
How the proceeds from these financial crimes are used in Jamaica has raised concerns among American law enforcement authorities, according to Linnisa Wahid, director of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement section at the United States (US) Embassy in Kingston.
“Unfortunately, Americans have lost close to US$300 million (J$45 billion) per year in these types of financial crimes,” Wahid said at a roundtable discussion hosted by the United States Embassy at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel on Tuesday.
“That's quite a lot of money when it comes to financial scams coming out of Jamaica and targeting Americans.”
The number of Jamaicans getting involved in the lottery scam has increased minimally in recent years, said Chambers, even as he warned that that was not the most “alarming” development.
“The people who we know are deeply involved, we are seeing that they are getting more sophisticated and they are using the legal network and our systems as best as they can to hide their assets,” he said referring to high-end vehicles and other assets registered to individuals whose employment history cannot support such acquisitions.
Further, the senior cop said gangs supported by the proceeds from lottery scamming are beginning to expand their grip on communities.
“So, for example, let's say you have four gangs that used to operate independently of each other … . What the financiers are now doing is to see how they can have these gangs operate in unison under a big umbrella group,” he explained.
“It's not like scammers are increasing and popping up everywhere, but we are seeing efforts to inculcate a smarter approach in how they conduct their business.”
More than 1,200 murders have been recorded across Jamaica since the start of the year, a 10 per cent increase year-on-year, according to the latest police statistics.
Close to 80 per cent of those murders involve the use of a gun, while approximately 70 per cent are said to be gang-related.
It is these figures, Wahid said, that have made targeting gangsters a key priority of America's bilateral assistance to Jamaica.
“Combating gangs is both a priority for the US and Jamaican governments, especially as it pertains to decreasing domestic homicides and fighting transnational organised crime,” she said, pointing to a number of capacity-building programmes undertaken by the embassy.
Chambers said the refusal of citizens to come forward with information on scammers is among the challenges thwarting the efforts of investigators.
“One of the main things is the fear within the community to come forward and support law enforcement given the depth and reach of some of these criminals,” the assistant commissioner of police said.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story suggested that Assistant Commissioner Clifford Chambers was at the roundtable discussion. His views were sought after the event.