BBB advises consumers to avoid Jamaican lottery scams

BUFFALO – Better Business Bureau urges families and caregivers to beware of growth for Jamaica-based lottery scams and take precautions.

Authorities say Jamaican scammers bombard the U.S. with at least 30,000 telephone calls a day, often from area code 876, in an attempt to defraud consumers, telling them they have won a lottery or car, and urging them to wire money to cover “taxes” before the winnings can be released.

Some victims of the scams have lost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and report that if they stop paying, the scammers relentlessly bombard them with telephone calls and threaten to burn down their homes and hurt their families.

In some cases, the criminals use satellite or Internet-based street view photos of victims’ homes to frighten them into cooperating.

Officials say the perpetrators are intelligent, articulate, well-organized and technologically savvy. A joint task force set up in 2009 by the Jamaican and U.S. governments has been unable to stop the schemes. Officials say the scams started taking off in Jamaica roughly six years ago; at about the same time the island became a regional leader in call centers dedicated to customer service.

Since 2006, many of the legitimate call centers have been based in Montego Bay, and that is where many of the fraud rings have popped up. Complaints in the U.S about Jamaican scams continue to grow, with a conservative estimate of annual losses of more than $300 million per year.

The United States Senate Special Committee on Aging recently heard from victims, law enforcement, a fraud expert from the money-wiring company Western Union, the president of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and a leading expert on fraudulent schemes affecting the elderly.

Jamaican authorities have been unable to make a dent in the sophisticated schemes, however, the island nation’s House of Representatives passed a bill that Jamaican lawmakers say will result in a “vastly accelerated number of successful prosecutions of swindlers who have made the island a center for cross-border telemarketing fraud.”

BBB offers the following tips to avoid losing money to these scams:

Beware of unsolicited calls from the Jamaican area code 876, which promise offers, deals or prizes that sound too good to be true.

Never wire funds from your financial accounts unless you know and trust the recipient on the other end.

No legitimate lottery requires any kind of advanced fees in order to collect winnings.

Scammers sometimes use the names of well-known companies, such as Publishers Clearing House in an attempt to trick victims to send fees or taxes by wire service.

Never provide any personal or financial information to anyone who calls.

If you feel threatened, don’t hesitate in contacting your local police department.