U.S. Postal Inspectors cracking down on Jamaican lottery scams

Published: Feb. 22, 2020 at 8:19 AM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Micahel Romano is no stranger to taking calls from people all over Richmond who have been scammed out of hundreds or thousands of dollars.

“We’ve seen situations where people have put between 20 and $30,000 in the mail in order to collect these alleged winnings,” said the postal inspector. “I probably handle at least two to three calls a month on an individual who fell victim to the scam.”

The postal inspectors say the elderly are typically the prime target for scammers. They say scammers will get basic information like names, ages and addresses from the internet and then use high-pressure tactics to convince the individual to take the bait.

“They’re coming at people during hard times and people who may not have a lot of money left in retirement,” said Romano. “For these victims, it’s kind of a get-rich-quick scheme.”

In many cases, these lottery scams can be traced back to Jamaica.

For years, Romano and postal inspectors across the county have been investigating what they call the Jamaican Operation Link to Telemarket scams or JOLT.

The scam works by crooks sending the vulnerable and unsuspecting, often time elderly people a letter in the mail which tells them they have won millions of dollars or other prizes, but in order to free up the jackpot, they have to send hundreds or thousands of dollars back to the address on the envelope.

“The cash may make its way to another conduit in the scam who also believes that they have won the lottery and they’re told to put additional funds into the mail piece,” said Romano.

Romano adds that the mailpiece may make its way around to several places until eventually, it ends up in the hands of a terminal which is someone who may have been involved in the scam before and is told they’ve got a way to recoup some of the money.

“That individual is ultimately told to pull money out of the envelope, but then wire the remaining amount to a receiver over in Jamaica,” said Romano.

Romano says mail fraud crimes are becoming so rampant in Jamaica that they’ve surpassed narcotics and violent crimes in the country. Romano says the good news is that the postal inspectors are gaining ground in Jamaica to stop these crimes from happening at their source.

He says thanks to partners overseas, the postal inspectors have been extraditing people from jamaica into the U.S. to have them prosecuted hear or handling prosecutions in Jamaica.

“We actually have postal inspector over there that is working closely with Jamaican authorities, as well as other federal partners to go after the individuals who are responsible for creating,” said Romano “The postal impactors has it’s first Attaché liaison based in Jamaica, so we actually have postal inspector over there that is working closely with Jamaican authorities as well as other federal partners to go after the individuals who are responsible for creating this scam.”

This year the postal inspectors say they will have a more coordinated effort to stop these scams at the source and that we should see a reduction in the numbers of lotto-scams.

“We like to believe that we’re making a dent in this, but again the prevention piece and the enforcement piece go hand in hand,” said Romano. “The enforcement that we’ve done over the past couple of years has helped to limit the number of lottery scams that go out, and as we have really learned more about the scheme our own agencies have developed more processes on how to deal with it.”

Romano says if someone calls you that you don’t know and tries to offer you money, you should try to get their information over the phone and then hang up immediately and then contact your local law enforcement agencies.

“We need to send a message to these individuals that if you take people’s money especially internationally into the United States, there’s going to be repercussions for it," said Romano. "In the states, they can receive anywhere from five years and beyond for violations of mail fraud statutes, but for Jamaica, it would be up to their prosecutors as to how much time they serve.

The postal inspectors say once you’ve been scammed out of money- it can be near impossible to recover those funds because in many cases the money has been spent before it can be returned to the victim. They add that it is illegal to play a foreign lottery.

If you believe you are the victim of a mail fraud scam you urged to contact the postal inspectors at 877-876-2455.

For more information on how to keep your self or your loved ones from falling victim to mail fraud, click HERE.

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