PORTLAND, USA -- Western Union has decided to temporarily close money transfer stations in St James parish, Jamaica, including the resort area of Montego Bay, in an effort to thwart international phone scamming operations.
According to an Associated Press report, "…Western Union is temporarily shutting down its services in a northern Jamaican parish that is the hotbed for a multimillion-dollar lottery scam that targets mostly elderly Americans." The company indicated it is conducting an internal systems review of its security measures at the locations in the Montego Bay region.
Conservative estimates put the yearly take from Jamaican scams at $300 million, up from about $30 million in 2009.
"As we have been working with local, state and federal officials to shed light on this issue for several months, we applaud Western Union for taking these proactive steps to combat this very serious problem," said Mike Smith, Vermont state president of FairPoint Communications. "Western Union is an industry leader in its efforts to stop fraud and has dedicated significant resources to proactively get information out to help warn people about scams.”
FairPoint launched its "Beware: Scams from Area Code 876" campaign in March, 2012 and has highlighted stories of people in northern New England who have been victimized by Jamaican lottery scams.
FairPoint's campaign has gained national and international attention, prompting the Jamaican government to establish a task force to address the 30,000 daily calls from Jamaica into the United States attempting to defraud American citizens. As part of the campaign, FairPoint also created a broadcast-ready public service announcement that is airing on stations across northern New England and directing listeners to a website with resources to identify and prevent phone scams.
FairPoint further noted that its security office has received inquiries from across the country about this scam. According to Larry Caruso, FairPoint senior manager of security, the specific scam works as follows:
• Seniors receive a call from an 876 area code, which is often mistaken for a toll-free number.
• Victims are congratulated for winning the Jamaican lottery or a new car and then are directed to send a fee of up to $4,000 to process the lottery winnings.
• Victims are told that once the fee is received, money will be wired to their bank account and the car will be delivered to their home.
Many times the caller will tell the victim that a representative of the lottery is in the area and as soon as the process fee is received, someone will deliver a check to their home. Scammers often use Google Earth to identify local landmarks and make the scam more believable.
A key to the scammer's success is convincing victims to promise not to tell their family members and to make it a big surprise. If the scammers feel they have a potential victim, the calls will increase in frequency, resulting in hundreds of calls.
The money is requested through a wire from Western Union, Green Dot Card or in a creative way such as putting $100 bills in each page of a magazine.
"In many cases, the scammer befriends the victim, going as far as professing their love, intent to marry or even praying with them," said Caruso. "Once a victim is scammed out of money for the first time, the scammers work to get more and more money, including access to bank accounts and credit card information."
FairPoint works closely with victims and their families to help end this cycle of abuse,
Caruso said. "Our security software signals us when there is suspicious international activity on an account, allowing us to contact customers to ensure they aren't being victimized. Occasionally we come across a situation where we have to locate relatives and notify them of strange phone activity. We then work with the customer or their relative to add a call-intercept feature that will block inbound calls from specific area codes, block outbound international calls or even help change phone numbers."