How lotto scammers defraud elderly Americans

In this illegal scheme, Jamaicans pose as lotto officials to convince vulnerable foreigners that they’ve won a big payout. To retrieve their winnings, the caller says, all they have to do is pay a modest “processing fee.”

According to my 2013 study, most perpetrators are young – aged 14 to 25 – and work as telemarketers, remittance services cashiers, hotel employees, taxi drivers, police officers, bank tellers and airline staffers. These professions give them access to the personal information of potential victims.

Largely, I’ve found the fraudsters tend to target Americans, especially the elderly, gamblers, tourists and people who run online businesses. In 2010, Jamaican lotto scammers defrauded US$30 million from scores of victims in the state of Minnesota.

Criminals locate their victims using the contact details on so-called “lead lists” gleaned from hotels and call centers. Services like Google Voice and Vonage allow them to mask their location so that their calls appear to come from an American phone number. They may also try to hide their Jamaican accent, though victims often say it’s clear they’re not American.

Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness

Fraudulent callers assure the victims of a large lottery prize, but then inform them that a processing fee is needed to access those funds. Using Western Union, MoneyGram or a Green Dot prepaid card, they manipulate their victims into sending them anywhere from $750 to $2,500 in a week.

Scammers may also menace victims who are reluctant to pay. Using Google Earth, they describe the victim’s home and say they’re waiting “out front,” threatening them with bodily harm.

Over time, Jamaica’s lotto scammers have accrued huge fortunes, earning up to $100,000 a week. This criminal enterprise thrives in the Montego Bay area, the heart of the Jamaican tourism industry. There, it is estimated that thousands of illicit entrepreneurs have gotten rich doing lotto scams since 2007.

New gang wars

Montego Bay also has a long-standing history of gang disputes in poor neighborhoods. So lotto scammers, who generally come from those same violent areas, often use their dirty money to secure protection. They pay criminal organizations to defend their homes and families and bribe police.

Rich, protected and powerful, many lotto fraudsters eventually use their illegal earnings to purchase weapons and manpower, forming criminal gang.

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