By Maria Gabriela Bolivar Gomez
After millions of dollars were stolen from the account of world-record breaker and track field star Usain Bolt on January 11, 2023, the question of global scam culture reveals the larger question of global poverty.
Jamaican Olympic athlete Usain Bolt was baffled when he found 12.7 million dollars were missing from his saving account with the investment firm Stocks and Securities Limited (SSL).
According to their website, SSL has been in operation in Jamaica for almost 50 years.
It helps a variety of businesses, families, and individuals to reach their full economic potential by providing investment advisory.
“Our mission is to create investment portfolios for every Jamaican and build their Jamaican Financial Dream!” claimed SSL.
The athlete opened his account back in 2012 and hadn’t withdrawn money since. The account was intended for his three children, his parents, and his retirement.
Authorities said this scam might have been going on for over a decade and Bolt is just one of the 30 estimated victims in this ordeal. An estimate on the company's total alleged fraud has surfaced at $3 billion.
Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced his administration would not bail out the company.
Bolt has expressed empathy toward the elderly customers that might have been affected because of this fraud and said his main focus right now is uplifting the spirits of his people and his family.
The FBI is already involved in the investigation and has SSL under surveillance. As of Jan. 17, Jamaica’s Financial Services Commission (FSC) has taken over SSL for the time being.
Former SSL employee Jean-Ann Panton confessed to the FSC on Jan. 7 that she was involved in the scheme. In a written statement, she said the operation started around 2010 and she joined for help with her father’s cancer.
“He had to go overseas for treatment, and he was not employed at the time. It was at this point I thought of borrowing from client accounts to cover my father's expenses,” she stated.
Panton also explained that she had no clue on how she would pay it back but that was her solution at the time.
“Approximately three years after, he passed away and I also had to assist with the funeral expenses. I also borrowed from the client accounts to cover the funeral expenses,” she stated.
In addition to her bold confession, Panton also provided a list of the clients she took money from, but Bolt wasn’t on that list.
This SSL fraud is just a bigger fish in the daily scams that take place on the Caribbean island. The scam culture in Jamaica heavily relies on the “lotto scamming phone calls.”
According to a 2018 report by The Intercept, somebody from the island calls someone many miles away, usually in the U.S., and eagerly tells them they have won millions of dollars and luxury prizes. But they ask for a couple thousand dollars to clear out the taxes and administration.
This may reveal a bigger economic cause.
The average annual income in Jamaica sits at a little over $5,000, per Statista. And, according to Trading Economics, Jamaica's unemployment rate had increased in the second quarter of 2022 from 6 to 6.60 percent.
Yet, it's estimated that the earnings of Jamaican lotto scammers amount to $300 million yearly.
Sadly, the majority of these phone scammers target elderly people on a fixed income who are more vulnerable to believing the statements.
In 2014, coincidentally, one of those targeted people was former FBI director William Webster. Thanks to this call, the FBI made a video incentivizing elderly people to watch out for this type of scam.
Senior advertising major Daniela Florindez said poverty has a lot to do with the scam culture in these regions.
“I believe people in poverty choose crime because it is an easy way for them to make money and when they are living in poor conditions it calls for desperate measures,” she said.
Switching continents, India is one the poorest nations in the world and is known for its internet scammers. In 2020, the BBC interviewed an Indian scammer named Piyush.
He conducted a “tech support scam” where a warning would come up on the victim’s laptop or computer screen with a phone number to call for assistance, then they would get charged.
Later on, when Piyush created his own call center, he thought about doing the “IRS scam,” which targeted Americans, telling them that to collect thousands of dollars in a tax refund, you first had to pay $184.
It is very common for corporations to set up their call centers abroad to minimize fees and India is the main source country for this.
One of the most liked benefits is the time difference, which gives them availability 24/7. Vanessa Gudino, a senior majoring in criminology, said her dad almost got scammed by someone claiming that they worked for the electric company.
"I was telling him 'If you paid your bills you don't have to do this. And why are they taking your money if you have the receipts?'" she said. “But they kept calling saying if we don’t pay, they are going to turn our power off. At that moment, I took the phone from him and told them, ‘Well if that’s true come do it, we will be waiting.’ Nobody ever came.”
Here are three rules to protect you and your family members from becoming victims.
1) Never disclose your card number, routing numbers, or other banking information to unknown callers.
2) Although the money might sound good, do not believe you need to pay money to “collect your winnings.”
3) Most importantly, stop and think clearly.
Do not be rushed into sending money by the scammer’s sense of urgency or threats from unknown numbers.