Jamaica's homicide rate reached an alarming five-year high in 2015, with the uptick believed to have been driven by violent rivalries between lottery scam rings.
Jamaica's Police Constabulary stated that there were at least 1,192 killings in 2015, with most related to gang violence, reported The Associated Press (AP). This was a nearly 20 percent increase on 2014, which saw a total of 1,005 killings, the lowest since 2003.
With a population of around 2.7 million, the homicide rate reached 45 per 100,000 in 2015, maintaining Jamaica's grim record as one of the most violent countries in the world. National Security Minister Peter Bunting, who has set an ambitious goal of reducing annual murders to 320 by 2017, said that officials "will not be deterred or daunted by this setback."
The country's crime statistics, however, do contain some hopeful signs: while murders increased last year, there was a decline in other crimes, including rape, aggravated assault, robberies and larcenies, reported the AP.
InSight Crime Analysis
Authorities have attributed Jamaica's dramatic increase in homicides in 2015 to clashes between rival lottery scam rings on the Caribbean island nation. Lottery scamming is a form of advance fee fraud that involves contacting victims via phone or email with the bogus promise of a lottery win, which can be collected only after the victim has sent money in advance.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Jamaica
In Jamaica, rival scam rings are reportedly competing for control of money and "lead lists," which contain the contact details of thousands of potential targets, mainly in the United States. With a list of good phone numbers, it has been estimated a scammer can make over $1,000 in several days. In 2013, The Wall Street Journal reported that Jamaican scammers alone took $1 billion from US victims, who are often elderly people suffering from dementia, over the course of four years. (See The Wall Street Journal diagram below)
Action to combat the problem has been tedious. So far, few Jamaican citizens have been extradited to the US on lottery fraud charges, a process that is complicated and painfully slow, much less convicted. To help reduce Jamaica's worsening homicide rate, US and Jamaican authorities will need far greater levels of effort and cooperation in cracking lottery scam rings, holding perpetrators accountable and disincentivizing this nefarious activity.