The American Citizen Services section in Kingston receives frequent inquiries from citizens who have been defrauded for hundreds and even thousands of dollars by Advance Fee Fraud scammers in Jamaica. The most prevalent in Jamaica is the lottery scam, where scammers lead victims to believe they have won a drawing or lottery, but the cash or prizes will not be released without upfront payment of fees or taxes. Scammers frequently target the elderly or those with disposable income.
If it is too good to be true, it is not true. Do NOT believe that you have won a lottery you never entered. It is illegal to play foreign lotteries from the United States. Do NOT believe any offers (lottery, prize claim, inheritance, etc.) that require a fee to be paid up front. Do NOT provide personal or financial information to individuals or businesses you don’t know or haven’t verified. Do NOT send any money to someone you do not know. Do NOT attempt to recover funds personally or travel to Jamaica to transfer money.
Check the following signs to see if you might be involved in a fraudulent lottery scheme:
- You receive an unsolicited call, letter or email claiming that you have won a lottery or contest you never entered or that other individuals or businesses entered for you, and that you must pay fees or taxes to claim the prize
- The caller indicates they are doing you a ‘service’ by allowing you to pay fees up front in order to avoid further hassles, taxes, paperwork, lawyers, etc.
- The caller provides stories explaining the urgent need for more money, and finds creative ways for you to obtain and send money, including using ‘Green Dot’ cards, selling property, taking loans, etc.
- A caller you do not know claims to know about your neighborhood, family, or personal situation
- If funds are not submitted, the scammers may feign anger or make threats. Threats include claims that they will report you to the IRS, to the police, or cause bodily harm.
- Scammers may involve unwitting accomplices to contact you, including your friends, family, neighbors or local police
- Scammers may subsequently pose as government officials or lawyers claiming that you must pay for their services to assist with your case, reclaim your scammed funds, or protect you from criminal prosecution. Although the caller may claim to be in Jamaica, he or she may ask that the money be sent to an account in another country or to an accomplice in the U.S. Alternatively, the scammer may state he or she is in a third country but request that funds be sent to the Jamaica.
If you think you have been a victim of a lottery scam, speak up and stop sending money. Scammers are difficult to stop because most victims do not report the incident. Report the matter immediately to the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov/ and also the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership among the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BIA), at www.ic3.gov. You can also inform the U.S. Embassy in Kingston at KingstonACS@state.gov and contact the local police. Stop all communication with the scammers – if their calls do not stop, attempt to block their calls or consider changing your phone number.
Lottery Scam Resources
- Internet Crime Complaint Center: www.ic3.gov
- Federal Trade Commission: www.ftc.gov
- A video from London’s American Citizen Services section
- Department of State’s International Financial Scams brochure
Other Types of Scams
Additional scams originating in Jamaica include U.S. citizens defrauded by Internet contacts they thought were their friends or loved ones. These schemes include on-line dating services, inheritance notices, work permits/job offers, bank overpayments, non-existent BTA airline boarding fees, and even the appearance that you are helping a friend in trouble.
In many cases, scammers make phone calls or troll the Internet for victims, and spend weeks or months building a relationship. Once they have gained their victim’s trust, the scammers create a false situation and ask for money.
Before you send funds, check to see if you recognize any of the following signs, and realize that you may be a potential victim of a scam:
- You only know your friend or fiancé online and may never have met in person. In some cases, the victim has even believed he or she has married the scammer by proxy.
- Photographs of the scammer show a very attractive person, and appear to have been taken at a professional modeling agency or photo studio. If they provide you with a copy of their passport or visa, you can always contact the U.S. embassy in the country where the passport or visa was issued to verify the validity of the document.
- The scammer’s luck is incredibly bad – he/she is in a car crash, or arrested, or mugged, or beaten, or hospitalized. Close family members are dead or unable to assist. Sometimes, the scammer claims to have a young child overseas who is ill or hospitalized.
- You have sent money for visas or plane tickets but they can’t seem to make it to their destinations, citing detention by immigration officials, or other reasons that prevent them from traveling.
- Beware of anyone who requests funds for a BTA, or Basic Travel Allowance, as a requirement to depart another country for the United States. There is no such thing as a BTA. In other cases, your Internet friend will claim to need a travel allowance, or travel money, to be able to travel to the United States. Again, there is no such requirement under U.S. law.
- The scammer may even claim to be contacting you from a U.S. Embassy, where your partner, business associate, or friend is being detained pending payment of some type of fee. U.S. embassies do NOT detain people.
Internet scammers are using social networking sites to find victims. The scammers obtain a person’s login information, change his/her profile to make it appear as if the person is in trouble, then contact the person’s friends via those websites asking them to send money to help. To avoid falling victim to such a scam, always be suspicious of anyone asking for money through the Internet, including via social networking sites, and always verify a supposed friend’s circumstances by speaking to him or her directly. ALWAYS protect your online identity by securing your logins and passwords.
Adoption scams are becoming increasingly common. The perpetrators of child adoption fraud often claim to be indigent parents unable to care for a child or members of the clergy working at an orphanage seeking a good home for a child. Americans should be very cautious about sending money or traveling abroad to adopt a child from an orphanage they have only heard about through e-mails. A new twist in the conventional email adoption scam has appeared recently, and this one occurs after the victim discovers that he or she has been fooled by a scam. Once the victim suspects fraud and breaks off communications with the scammers, a new email message will arrive claiming to be from a police agency. These fictitious policemen will offer to recover the victim’s lost money. The scammers will then ask for a “refundable” fee to open the investigation or court files.
All of these scams have one thing in common – they contain requests for money. Sometimes you are asked to pay money to obtain something of value for yourself (e.g. a prize, a romantic relationship, more money); or you are asked to pay money to help a friend in trouble. In every case, however, the ultimate indicator of a scam is that you are always asked to give money.
Con artists can be very creative and very determined. Be skeptical. Do not send anyone money unless you are certain that it is a legitimate request – even if you think you know the person well based on your Internet correspondence. You are unlikely to be able to recover money lost in such scams. For more information, please see the Department of State’s brochure at http://travel.state.gov/pdf/international_financial_scams_brochure.pdf (PDF 654 KB).
If you believe you are the victim of an Internet scam:
- Do not send money. Unfortunately, any money that you might already have sent will probably not be recoverable.
- End all communication with the scammer immediately, rather than attempt resolution directly. If you feel threatened, contact your local police at once. Do NOT attempt to personally recover the funds lost. Contact the appropriate authorities to resolve the matter.
- Report the matter immediately to The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership among the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BIA), at www.ic3.gov.
- If the scam originated through a particular website, notify the administrators of that website.