Why They Scam...
Scamming is in the news again. With 8 Jamaicans - including a police constable- being extradited to the United States to face the courts, the question of why is the lottery scamming incident so prevalent among our citizens has popped up again. Being from Western Jamaica and going to college in Montego Bay, I had a first-hand account of the heart of the operation, of persons' plying this trade and as such found out their reasons for doing what they do.
And it's just that, it's easy. The simple action of dialling from a sheet of over 500 numbers and putting the phone to your ear is an action so easy a child could do it. It's an action that we all practice daily and which is ingrained in us almost from birth. You see the key to scamming is that you have to be patient and persuasive, traits that Jamaicans and especially our males practice on a daily basis in their pursuit of women. Scamming is akin to the first time you talk a girl, you're in the courtship period. You have to come off as authentic and genuine, that you're the real deal. Combine this with the fact that most victims are the elderly and you have a sure-fire way to scam the gullible.
Low-cost investment, High Yield returns.
A sheet of numbers can cost anything from JA$15,000 to JA$20,000 as a starting price from someone inside our BPO industry and it is relatively easy to get, you could at one point build a road in the sky from Westmoreland to Montego Bay’s Free Zone area with the amount of sheets being circulated. From these sheets, you can have anywhere from 500-1500 phone numbers complete with addresses and social security numbers, depending on how good your seller is. Some may or may not even come with credit card numbers for more a higher price. More details? More money. With detailed information such as this, you could judge how much you could make off a caller. But even the simple act of asking for $300 is already a return on your invest with the exchange rate being what it is. -I’m being conservative here, I’ve watched persons send upwards of US$2000 to claim their lottery “winnings”- You could also hit one target multiple times making money hand over fist. When you ‘bingo’ or get money from a victim, you already made enough money to buy at least two more sheets and all that was possible from just ONE call. You have 499-1499 more numbers on the sheet to call. With one phone and 20 minutes, you have already made more money than most persons do working an entire month and by putting in waaay less effort.
Scamming is illegal. There is not one scammer or citizen who doesn’t know that and if you meet one who tells you he didn’t know, you have my permission to introduce his head to a Red Stripe bottle. Scamming is also an open secret, the police know, the politicians know, the schools know, the churches know, the stores know. You don’t see a boy fresh from High School driving a Toyota 110 with chromed out rims, flossing with crates of liquor, gold chains, burning money and don’t suspect something. But are there consequences? Most persons turn a blind eye to it with the rationale being ‘well at least they’re not hurting anybody.” The police certainly know and they certainly want their cut of that sweet, sweet US dollar. The politicians know but are generally too busy, too lazy or just too stupid to do anything about it, mostly the last two. Some use the Scammers as silent backers in their projects and community outreaches, oh they'll never admit it but you can always find a dance being sponsored by a scammer. A humble scammer is a poor scammer is the rule here. There is a competition to see who can spend the most money and be a type of pseudo-don in their community, there is an insatiable need to be seen as having money and letting everyone know you have money. So everyone knows and you may have to pay off the authorities to turn a blind eye to your scamming but it is such a small price to pay that most pay it happily.
They have time.
As I mentioned, scamming is a game of patience and persuasion. Jamaicans are already prolific storytellers, born from our long days of telling and retelling interesting facets of lives so we have persuasion, wordplay, pitch etc. perfected. Patience is something we have in abundance because we have time in abundance. The average call centre shift lasts 12 hours, think of scamming as working in a call centre but with much better pay and you can work all day AND night. Western Jamaica isn't exactly known for having a lot of jobs; to be honest, you have roughly 4 options:
- Work in tourist industry where if you're entry level, you will more than likely end up selling weed or sexing white women/men to get by.
- Learn a trade/Open your own business. Mechanic, Plumber, carpenter, taxi driver, bar owner, shop keeper etc.
- Planting weed
- Go work in a call centre.
If everyone is doing one of these 4 options then competition is stiff and with the tourist and call centre industry being what they are, you receive shit pay and are easily replaceable. A few lucky ones escape and get to move to other parishes or overseas with more opportunities or college/universities. The vast majority aren't that lucky as this requires you to have subjects, experience or "links", the first two lacking as we are not blessed with many places of employment that take on interns in the summer and the last being influenced by who knows who for long from which family. Also, our schools are grossly underfunded and social stigmas still surround about what high school you went to. Petersfield? Grange Hill? Mount Grace? You better learn a trade, get those subjects or excel in sports otherwise a dark future stands waiting for you and God forbid someone gets a child. But don't think that subjects get you anywhere, one of the most prolific scammers is a young man I grew up with. Graduated at the top of his class and packing his 6 double units of CAPE, yet couldn't get funding to go to college and most places took one look at his resume and decided he was "too qualified." You can't pay a qualified man shit and expect him to be content, he will eventually rile up the other workers about what they should be getting.
l I digress but I want you to fully understand what we face. The scammers have time because it's an option of joining the already fierce competition for jobs/income and try to get by, begging or sit by the roadside. Most have to sit by the roadside, not by their choice but as it is the only road they have. So they turn to scamming, they can afford to be patient. The alternative is far worse to them.
For many scammers, getting rich quickly is a giant middle finger to those who doubted them. Teachers, parents or anyone who looked down on them is now forced to look them in the eye as they scrape by with their meagre wages. But for many, they will tell you it is hitting against the white man. The man who comes to our island and sits on our beaches, sex our women and then leave. Many point to slavery and say their ancestors are smiling at this reversal of fortunes. While you wouldn't expect scammers to be aware of the power struggle among the races, they very much are and have experienced it. The Chinese have expanded to almost completely taken over retail and with their lower prices and almost xenophobic nature look down on their Jamaican employees. Rarely will you go into a Chinese store and see a black man/woman at the cash register because they don't trust you there, the Indians to a lesser extent. There are few tax breaks for us to start businesses and foreigners gets preferential treatment in almost every situation.
Much more could be said on the whole lottery scamming phenom. It is both fascinating, terrifying and the reasons for its existence are varied and fleeting. Most choose to write off scammers as uneducated fools who stumbled on a lucrative venture and then ran with it but, what you are looking at is a highly successful operation. It takes no small amount of talent to convince a foreigner in broken English and with no prior training to hand over their money in confidence, not mentioning convincing them to do it multiple times. Lottery Scamming is a product of unemployment, resourcefulness and a thirst for validation by young men who otherwise would've been victims of a system that shorted them an opportunity and eventually would've spat them totally unprepared into a cruel world to die. The problem is these men decided to survive...