The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging's two top lawmakers pressed the Department of Justice (DOJ) today to do more to extradite Jamaican scam-artists who target elderly Americans with false promises of lottery winnings.
"[T]he failure to indict even one Jamaican criminal in conjunction with these lottery scams shows these fraudsters, whether purposely or not, that they can continue to operate with impunity," U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the panel's chairman and ranking member, wrote in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. "We believe extradition of a select group of these criminals would show all Jamaican fraudsters that they are not untouchable. The chilling effect of such an action could have an enormous impact in reducing how enticing these scams are to current and potential Jamaican scammers."
The lawmakers also expressed concerned over the agency's "lack of attention" to the problem.
"We owe it to our constituents and the aging community we serve to ensure that the DOJ is doing everything possible to secure an indictment and extradition in connection with these Jamaican scams," added the lawmakers, who also requested a private briefing on the agency's plans to bring the scammers to justice.
The senators' letter comes on the heels of a hearing the aging panel held on Wednesday to examine the impact foreign lottery scams are having on the elderly.
According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), lottery and prize scams, including those originating from Jamaica, could be bilking Americans of out $1 billion annually. Last year, the FTC received nearly 30,000 complaints about Jamaican lotto schemes -- a figure most experts admit could be much higher since an estimated 90 percent of these scams go unreported by victims because they're too embarrassed or fearful to contact authorities.
In testimony before the committee, Kim Nichols, the daughter of a 76-year-old retired pilot from New Hampshire, told lawmakers that Jamaican scam artists duped her father out of $85,000.
"These scammers are arrogant, professional and cruel," Nichols said. "Clearly they are operating without any concern of being caught. They know they can get away with it. How can we let that happen?"
A U.S.-led task force created four years ago to combat the crime has made little progress in stopping the scam artists. The task force, led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has initiated 450 investigations in Jamaica resulting in 149 arrests and only six convictions. To date, no Jamaicans associated with the lottery schemes have been brought to the U.S. for prosecution.