October 12, 2015


Scamming might be a relatively new word in the English language but based on media reports some average Jamaicans have now perfected the art. Regrettably, this is not just an intellectual exercise. Neither is it a lottery. It is now a crime popularly dubbed "the lottery scam".

Generally, the offence is committed when the scammer, having obtained the identity information of persons, would use the telephone or some other device to make contact with persons, usually outside of Jamaica, to communicate to them the 'good news"'that they have just won a lottery, large amount of money, an expensive car, and so on. For such communication to bear fruit, however, the scammer must convince the "winner" to send money to assist with obtaining the prize. If convinced, the "winner" will send money to the scammer who collects that money but delivers nothing to the 'winner' in return. Obviously, these scammers are blessed with very good oratory skills combined with the art of persuasion to be able to outsmart so many foreigners.

Law enactment

The response from the Government has been, among other things, to enact a very draconian law called "The Law Reform (Fraudulent Transactions) (Special Provisions) Act, 2013". This Act makes it a criminal act for a person to knowingly obtain or possess identity information, which might give rise to an inference that the information can be used to commit an offence under the Act. The Act provides an exhaustive list of identity information, being information that can be used alone or with other information to identify a person whether living or dead. These include DNA profile, fingerprint, name, address, date of birth, telephone number, driver's license number, TRN number, passwords, and credit card number among others. It is also a crime to transmit, sell, distribute or offer for sale the identity information of any person.

Under the Act, an offence is also committed when a person uses a phone or any electronic device to make any demand, with menace, in order to obtain a benefit for himself or any other person with intent to cause loss to that person. Anyone who conspires, aids, abets, counsels, incites or induces a person to do these things also commits a crime under the Act.

It is also an offence to obtain property by false pretence, directly or indirectly, or by contract or any arrangement.

The usual procedure is for persons who are arrested under the Act to be taken before a Resident Magistrate's Court for the file to be completed and the matter transferred without preliminary examination to the Circuit Court for trial by Judge alone. Persons who are arrested are sometimes offered bail but it seems almost a "judicial policy" that the bail bond is fixed at a very high sum and stringent conditions of bail are imposed.

Persons convicted of "lotto scamming" offences are liable to both fine and imprisonment for periods between 15 to 25 years. In addition, the Court has the power to order the convict to make restitution, that is to say, to return the property to the victim or to pay an amount equal to the value of the property. The penalties are geared at not only punishing the offender by incarceration but also at taking the profit out of the crime. So, scammers beware!

Other Features Stories