Caribbean financial scams costing millions

Nov. 13, 2012 at 7:22 PM
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KINGSTON, Jamaica, Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Financial scams have robbed U.S. and Caribbean citizens of millions of dollars, driving U.S. and Jamaican security forces into urgent collaboration to stem the tide.

In Kingston many of the money kiosks dealing with domestic and foreign remittances and other financial transaction remain under close scrutiny.

Many have suspended financial operations after large-scale fraudulent activity caused operational meltdown.

U.S. Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater said American citizens were fleeced of more than $42 million during a three-year period ending last year. Of those victims, 18 from South Florida and lost about $5.5 million, Bridgewater said.

Jamaican fraudsters have been using money shops to create scams, some involving the national lottery.

Analysts said the scams were of particular concern because of a growing influx of organized crime and drug gangs hounded out of Colombia and Mexico during security operations in those countries.

The envoy cited U.S. Federal Trade Commission data to outline the extent of fraud, The Jamaica Observer said.

U.S. law enforcement agencies have been working "closely and vigorously" with Jamaican counterparts in collaborative efforts to combat the scam since it surfaced several years ago, Bridgewater told a meeting called to discuss measures to combat the problem, the Observer said.

A special task force based at the U.S. Embassy in Kingston includes security and law enforcement experts from several U.S. agencies.

Bridgewater said U.S. collaboration with the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Jamaican Customs Department had led to constructive results.

"We also work on programs, projects and operations in the United States with the cooperation of the JCF, and we work on cases in our own country (for which our authorities) will request extradition," the envoy said.

U.S. officials are also helping Jamaican law enforcement agents with local investigations and sharing intelligence that will help in combating the crime wave, she said.

"We won't stop until justice prevails," she said.

Jamaican remittance companies have reported than 270,000 suspicious transactions to the Financial Investigations Division since early 2012, the Gleaner newspaper said.

Leesa Kow, president of Jamaica Money Remitters Association, told The Gleaner the scams had forced businesses to increase security, at significant cost.

"It is horrendous, the financial burden as well as the burden on the human resources," Kow said.

"We have had to have in place huge numbers of teams to sit down and vet transactions; that's all they do. They look at the patterns of the transactions, they look for linkages between the transactions and where the transactions are coming from and where they are going," Kow said.

FID chief Justin Felice says the organization is hard-pressed to sift through the huge volumes of suspicious transactions because of insufficient human resources.

Caribbean countries are also struggling to build up and refurbish their military and security forces.

Recent moves toward defense acquisitions have met with opposition from government critics and warnings about the proper use of limited cash resources at the governments' disposal.

The United States has put different programs in places for the training of Caribbean military personnel and for measures against money laundering and other organized crime activities transferred from Latin American narcotic hubs.

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