HomeNewsAnalysisDeciphering the Lottery Scam Rings Fueling Violence in Jamaica
ANALYSIS

Deciphering the Lottery Scam Rings Fueling Violence in Jamaica

COSTA RICA / 22 JAN 2016 BY INSIGHT CRIME EN

Last year’s shocking increase in Jamaica’s homicide rate has refocused attention on lottery scams in the Caribbean island nation. But it is not a uniquely Jamaican problem, with well-organized lottery frauds operating throughout the Americas, costing the United States hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

The total number of killings in Jamaica jumped to 1,192 in 2015, a 20 percent increase from the previous year with the majority believed to be gang-related. Authorities point to violence between lottery scam rings fighting over profits and valuable “lead” or contact lists as the major cause of the spike. This type of advance fee fraud usually targets elderly Americans but also fuels gang warfare in the origin country as rival scam rings compete for resources.

To give just one example, the massacre of six family members in Kingston last October was linked directly to lottery scam rings. Jamaica’s National Security Minister, Peter Bunting, said at the time that this “heinous crime shows that scamming not only affects those who participate and directly profit from it, but those who associate with them,” reported Fox News.

Advance fee frauds involve calling or emailing unsuspecting targets claiming to offer money — in the case of lottery scams, a winning ticket — which can only be redeemed after a fee has been forwarded. (See the Wall Street Journal’s graph below of how Jamaican lottery scams work) Other forms of advance fee scams include Nigeria’s notorious “419” fraudsters, who send out emails offering a range of bogus prizes and rewards, resulting in millions of illicit dollars flowing into the West African nation each year.

16-01-15-Jamaican-Scam-Graph

While US citizens tend to be the main targets of lottery scams, the scammers themselves can come from all across North and Central America. Jamaican fraudsters are currently thought to be the most pernicious, but two years ago a network of US citizens working out of Costa Rica ran a damaging scam operation for years before being brought to justice. In Jamaica and Costa Rica the scams are an undesirable side effect of a burgeoning offshore call center industry, although scams have also originated in Canada, Spain and even the United States. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Costa Rica

The immediate victims are nearly always the old and infirm. US citizens have been targeted especially by Jamaican fraudsters, and at times the consequences are much more tragic than simply monetary loss. In October 2015, Albert Poland Jr., an 81-year old American man with Alzheimer’s and dementia, was driven to suicide after repeatedly sending money to Jamaican lottery scammers. His story drew international attention to the scams, fueled by a widely shared CNN report.

Amid this wave of fraud operations targeting US citizens, authorities are taking steps to bring foreign-based scammers to justice. In a landmark case in May 2015, Sanjay Williams became the first Jamaican citizen to be convicted of lottery scamming. Having operated with impunity for years in Jamaica, he was finally captured, extradited, and found guilty of conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in December. Several expatriates from the US and Canada have also been arrested and convicted of having managed a lottery scam from Costa Rica, according to the Tico Times.

Despite the gains made against some high-profile scammers, challenges remain. Building an extradition case requires amassing first-person affidavits from multiple victims, as well as maintaining a high level of coordination between US and foreign officials. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Jamaica

Meanwhile, the potential profits will surely continue to attract more criminal opportunists to lottery scams. The most seasoned scammers can earn several millions of dollars during the course of their criminal career. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation said Williams and another rival ringleader, Lavrock Willocks, had swindled more than $5.6 million from some 80 victims, the Jamaica Observer reported. This is just a fraction of the estimated $300 million that flows to Jamaica from the US every year via lottery scams, according to CNN.

The exact connection between drug gangs, which have fragmented since the fall of notorious drug trafficker Christopher “Dudus” Coke, and the lottery scam rings remains unclear. It is possible, however, that this fragmentation has caused some drug gangs to move into lottery scams. If true, this would present even greater challenges for authorities struggling to rein in a ballooning homicide rate that consistently ranks among the highest in the region

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Related Content

COLOMBIA / 21 MAY 2013

The FARC engage in criminal activities to fund their struggle to overthrow the state. There is very little difference between…

COSTA RICA / 4 JUN 2013

The takedown of a global currency exchange that prosecutors say was the largest online money laundering operation in history has…

COLOMBIA / 3 SEP 2020

The coronavirus pandemic sparked a shift in Colombia as criminal actors the nation over sought to profit from the sudden…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…