Jamaican Lottery Scam
There are plenty of scams that use lottery prizes as bait to defraud innocent people out of their money. Since 2011, one particular scam has garnered a lot of attention in the U.S. due to the many arrests and convictions attained in the pursuit of justice. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the Jamaican lottery scam and how you can protect yourself from similar scams.
What is the Jamaican Lottery Scam?
The Jamaican lottery scam was a large-scale operation that used typical lottery scam ploys to get innocent people to give up their money. The scam operated over the phone, with scammers in Jamaica calling U.S. residents and telling them that they’ve won a prize from a foreign lottery or contest. The promised reward was not always a cash prize, but would sometimes be vacations, vehicles or any other big, enticing win.
The catch is that the scammers would then convince the prize winners that they would have to pay a certain fee to receive their prize. The payment could be to cover the cost of shipping, insurance, taxes, or customs processing. The supposed winner would be asked to provide their banking or credit card information, to mail a cheque, or to wire money directly to pay the fee. Once the person paid, they (of course) would never receive their prize.
The Jamaican lottery scammers were so successful with their ploy that some victims gave up their entire life savings, with one woman allegedly paying more than $300,000! Investigators found at least 90 Americans who collectively lost more than $5.7 million to the scammers. Many victims reported that the scammers were very aggressive, sometimes resorting to threats or continued harassment over the phone.
Who Were the Targets of the Jamaican Lottery Scam?
You might think that falling for such a scam would be pretty hard, but the scammers knew who to target. The vast majority of the victims were elderly Americans who were perhaps too trusting of the person they were speaking to on the phone.
While the scammers certainly targeted a vulnerable subset of people, they were also very sophisticated about their operation. If the harassment didn’t work, they would often have people pose as lawyers, customs officials, or as someone with connections to the Jamaican government. In one extreme case, 81-year-old Albert Poland Jr. (pictured on left with his wife Virginia), of Knoxville, TN, committed suicide as a result of the never-ending harassment he had to endure.
Were the Jamaican Lottery Scammers Caught?
Yes—in this particular scam operation, the scammers were caught! A case was opened in 2012, and the investigation spanned the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the FBI, and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.
By 2018, 27 arrests had been made, with charges including conspiracy, fraud and money laundering. One of the defendants in the case was a U.S. citizen from North Dakota who would fly back and forth to Jamaica with cash from their victims.
The convicted fraudsters were ordered to repay the victims, some of whom received payment in the form of the criminal’s seized assets, but it is unclear if all of the lost funds were returned.
How to Protect Yourself from This Type of Scam
While justice was served in this particular case, that doesn’t mean the threat has been eliminated. It is very commendable that the 27 individuals involved in this specific operation were apprehended, but they are not the only scammers out there. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that the lottery scam industry generates a billion dollars (US) a year in Jamaica, so it’s important to remain vigilant.
To avoid falling victim to a similar Jamaican lottery scam, or any other lotto scam, remember the following:
- Foreign lotteries are often illegal! If someone from a foreign country is telling you that you have won a prize from a lottery you definitely did not enter, they are lying.
- If you haven’t entered the lottery, you cannot win the prize. The Jamaican lottery scam takes advantage of peoples’ optimism and their desire to win big. Often, the victims overlook the fact that they have not even purchased a ticket for the lottery or contest that they have reportedly won.
- Never share your financial or personal information with someone you don’t know or trust. Unless you are dealing with a credible, trusted source that you have dealt with before, never give out your information over the phone.
- Do not believe any solicitations that ask you to send money to another country. Whether they ask for a cheque or a wire transfer, your payment will be difficult to track down if it leaves the country.
- Do not pay any fee to retrieve a prize. A legitimate lottery organization would never require you to pay money before giving you your reward.
- Never let anyone rush you into paying money for something that does not seem credible. Take a moment to collect your thoughts and ask yourself if the person is trustworthy. Do not let a pushy or aggressive caller pressure you into giving away money.
Many U.S. residents fell victim to the Jamaican lottery scam and lost hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Authorities were able to track down many of the perpetrators of the fraud, but unfortunately, the victims will likely never have their money fully returned. The best defence is to stay informed and be vigilant about the various lottery scams that exist out there, as there is always a chance that scammers could target you next.