Thursday March 14, 2013 | 04:33 PM

WASHINGTON – The recent focus in the media and on Capitol Hill on lottery scams targeting senior citizens appears to have captured the attention of authorities in the U.S. and Jamaica.

One day after a U.S. Senate panel held emotional hearings on the scams, officials in Jamaica held a press conference in that country to discuss their plans to deal with the potentially costly fallout over the issue, news outlets reported on Thursday.

The Jamaican newspaper The Gleaner reported that National Security Minister Peter Bunting said authorities were “prepared for the negative U.S. media coverage as a result of the effects of the lottery scam.”

The Associated Press, meanwhile, quoted Bunting as saying that he believes a bill targeting fraudulent transactions will result in a "vastly accelerated number of successful prosecutions" if it goes into effect later this month. The bill passed the House chamber of Jamaica’s Parliament and was slated to be taken up in the Senate on Friday.

The lottery scam issue that has stolen untold millions of dollars from senior citizens in Maine and across the nation has been the focus of both national and regional media coverage in recent weeks. For a taste of the aggressive tactics used by the scammers, listen to the recording above this story of a conversation between an elderly woman in York County and a supposed lottery agent.

CBS, NBC and former anchorman Dan Rather have all done reports on the scam from Jamaica this week, and numerous regional newspapers – including the Portland Press Herald – have given it plenty of ink. Two of the PPH's recent stories can be found here and here.

Meanwhile, Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Susan Collins of Maine – the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Special Committee on Aging – have vowed to keep up the pressure.

“Sen. Collins and I are not going to let this one go,” Nelson said at the end of Wednesday’s hearing. “We want to see some indictments and some prosecutions.”

The Caribbean island has a lot to lose from continued attention from the media and Congress. Jamaican officials have already expressed concerns about impacts on tourism and on the country’s well-established telemarketing industry, which is where the con artists appear to have received their training.

The Jamaican ambassador to the U.S., Stephen Vasciannie also chimed in on Thursday. Vasciannie wrote in an op-ed published Thursday on the Huffington Post that his government was rolling out a 5-point plan focused on “public education, increased enforcement, laws creating new offenses, strengthened judicial and procedural rules, and restitution for victims.”

“Jamaica is committed to ending these attacks by unscrupulous scammers, and we believe that these tough new measures will help in this fight,” Vasciannie wrote in the Huffington Post. “It is a fight that we will win.”

 

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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