Gangsters in the United States? What are some famous ones that come to mind? Gangs in our country have wreaked havoc over the ages through gang violence, extortion, theft, drugs, prostitution, etc. What about other countries and their gang operations? You may think that their focus would primarily be on citizens in their own country, but there are gangs overseas, where the criminal target is primarily the U S of A. Jamaica just south of us is one such country.
Now, why would this be? Apparently, certain Americans are easy targets, and with the advent of technology such as disposable cell phones and voice over internet protocol (VOIP) aka Skype, ripping off Americans has become easier. “Leads lists” are sold on the black market. These lists contain crucial information for scammers that provide information on “age, income, occupation”, whether individuals have previously entered lottery contests, previous victims of fake check/sweepstakes fraud, etc. Individuals mainly targeted are senior citizens.
Since there has been a crackdown on drug trafficking in Jamaica, organized crime has had to find a new outlet for profiteering. This outlet involves calling up unsuspecting Americans and telling them that they are the lucky recipients of millions of dollars. Once a person is convinced of his/her good fortune, they are then asked to send money through check transfer, (i.e. Western Union, Moneygram, Green Dot MoneyPak), to pay for taxes or other miscellaneous fees.
The gangs have highly complex operations. Individuals work together to defraud individuals. They perfect their marketing spiels, before trying them out on intended victims, and they have different roles to play. Some pretend to work for Publishers Clearing House, while others work for the FBI, law enforcement, an attorney’s office, etc. Stories are concocted, indicating a person has won money and an expensive sports car. An identifying number is provided so they can keep track of all the numbers of people they have called. Once they have received so-called tax money from the winners, other stories are used to keep the money source flowing. A lotto winner may be accused of check fraud and will be thrown in jail, if no money received. The threat of investigators coming to the house is another story line. Someone may call, indicating that their office needs to be paid in order to protect the person from the check-fraud charges. Threats of violence and other means of coercion are also employed.
This has become such a lucrative business that fights/killings break out amongst competitor gangs, vying for the same lead list. A coalition (Jamaica Operations Linked to Telemarketing Task Force/JOLT) between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Constabulary Force of Jamaica joined forces in April 2008, to fight this growing problem. Some progress has been made, including “115 arrests and about 400 investigations” per ICE. It is nowhere near stopping the problem, though, which has grown at a massive rate, with approximately 1900 complaints in 2007 to 29,000+ in 2011. Guestimated monetary losses are at about “$1 billion a year”, and it is believed that only 10% of victims report their losses to authorities.
One of the reasons these callers find it so easy to evade being brought to justice is because they use disposable cell phones, which they simply dispose of, before authorities can intercept. Anyone can walk into a store and buy a disposable phone. The number isn’t easily traceable to the purchaser.
With the use of Skype technology, a person can make inexpensive calls worldwide and hide their identity.  Law enforcement can be evaded that way too.
Another loophole is the use of money transfer. When one of these gang members asks you to send money through the various methods of money transfer, they are well aware that when you provide them with the number provided from the money transfer, that anyone can pick the money up from any location, simply by providing the number. No photo ID is required.
It doesn’t help the situation either that Jamaica is a hot bed for criminal activity. According to information provided by the United Nations in their July 2011 report, powerful gangs have a strong influence on government and provide protection and voter support, in exchange for looking the other way. Further, the justice system is so behind and understaffed that there seems to be no end in sight for punishment for these criminals. With all of these problems to contend with, the JOLT coalition has not been able to make the impact that it was designed for. Ironically, it was Jamaica that contacted the United States, to form this partnership.
In many ways, Jamaican gangs have become representative of the gangs of 20th Century, United States past. They prey on our citizens — monetarily, coercively, emotionally. A member will become a best friend, if it means getting closer to a person’s pocketbook. The best defense, for now, is awareness of the growing problem. Educate those that you can and send your questions to your Better Business Bureau.