A SCAMMER’S REGRET
He had it all — girls, money, expensive cars, lots of clothes, shoes and easy access to hotels on the North Coast. But late last year he walked away from it all.
Joe Scamo (not his real name) lived a life of scamming for six years.
“Within the six years that I was involved, I saw a lot of young uneducated people who gave up on school just to get into the game. They were using the proceeds to buy guns. They were earning big money. But I felt that if I got out of this I could fall back on my education. I got scared for my life and I became a father. I have a daughter whose life I want to be a part of,” the young man explained.
As the interview began, his eyes began to roam.
“You just don’t know when anyone from that life will see you and try to do you harm,” he shared.
Scamo is originally from one of Kingston’s tough inner-city communities. He graduated from one of the island’s top boys’ schools with eight passes in the Caribbean Examinations Council examinations. But an affluent life was what he craved.
“A lot of the things I didn’t have as a child I wanted to experience for myself. Coming from the ghetto, things were tough. Nobody showed you any respect because you come from the ghetto. After I left school I couldn’t get any jobs. Just the address alone, I think, was the turn-off, even though I was qualified. But I had to find a way out,” said Scamo.
With the help of a friend he got an American visa and left the island for four years. Settling in New York wasn’t what he thought it would be.
“Hustling was what I had to do. I didn’t set out to do that, but it was what I could find to get by,” he recalled.
It was during a drug bust by an undercover police officer that came to face with the law. Within months after the incident he was deported to Jamaica.
Through links he had in the hospitality sector, he found work at a telemarketing company in the western side of the country.
“I was working $9,000 a week and it just wasn’t cutting it. I had bills and I was helping my mother in Kingston. The pressure was real,” he said.
While partying with friends at a popular spot out west, he saw a group of men spending big money at the bar. This caught his attention.
“It was incredible the amount of money that they were spending, and I wanted to know what it was that they did to make them have access to all that money. In comparison to what I was earning from my job, I knew they weren’t smarter than me. My pay cheque wasn’t going anywhere, so I linked with those guys the same night. It turned out that one of them knew a friend of mine so they loosened up and we began to link,” Scamo shared.
“I met a few familiar faces later that night who were doing similar things like those guys [and] who told me they could teach me the ropes. I just decided that night that I would try it out to see where it would lead,” he continued.
Scamo was brought into the ‘operation’ which took place at the home of a friend in the Lilliput area, on the outskirts of Montego Bay.
“We would gather on the outside and make the calls from a cellphone. We had papers with the names and numbers of these people, so we went to work right away,” he said.
Asked how he got the papers with the information to call people, he said: “These are papers that are bought from dealers who have contacts with foreign dealers. The dealers benefit because they sell you the information.”
He recalled the first person that he scammed.
“I realise that my advantage in travelling overseas and having a feel for what Americans like, I figured it wouldn’t be hard for me to con somebody. After telling the person that they won a prize, I told them how much it would cost them to get the prize. I was nervous, to be honest, and once I did it, and saw that it was beneficial, it built up my confidence. I started off small to earn the person’s confidence as well.”
Scamo earned US$70 from his first scam. His biggest haul during his career of scamming was US$8,000 from an old woman.
He shared how he got comfortable and relaxed to continue the scamming.
“My ability to call them and become their friend helped a lot. They shared stories with me that they were scammed before and I listened and tried to be sympathetic to them. I tried to be that person that they could trust. And once I felt that I got that the money started to come in at a fast pace,” he explained.
Asked if the arrests of scammers by local law enforcement officials and officials from the United States had put a dent into his activities, Scamo said: “At first it did, but I realised that the police wanted the same thing. They wanted to be compensated. A lot of the guys pay the unscrupulous police officers to look the other way or for reduced jail time. It dawned on me that I was doing something wrong, but to have a peaceful life you just give them a thing.”
He also spoke about the lifestyle he had after acquiring an enormous amount of wealth from scamming.
“You get comfortable believing it wouldn’t change. I chose to enjoy the lifestyle that came with making all that money. I went to expensive places, spent time at luxurious hotels, ate at expensive restaurants, and you got a lot of respect. I wanted to feel a taste of that lifestyle that you never had while growing up,” he said.
But there’s also the downside to scamming.
“You were dealing with area dons and gang leaders. Basically, you were on the battlefield. You also had neighbours who felt they should benefit from your wealth. You also had to pay for protection. Most importantly, you had to keep an eye on your friends who are also involved in this. You just can’t trust no one.”
Asked whether he had any regrets getting out of the illegal practice, he said: “Yes, when you are used to making a certain amount of money and the extravagant lifestyle, the issue of waiting on a pay cheque at the end of the month can be a turn-off.”
And would he get back into the illegal craft?
“Definitely not, based on the lives I have seen lost. Persons have tried to lure me back into doing it, so I try to avoid contacting persons involved in scamming. The temptation to get involved isn’t strong any more,” said Scamo.
Quizzed on whether he ever felt sorry for any of the persons that he scammed, Scamo let out a loud sigh.
“There’s a lady who lost all of her savings after she put up her house for sale to buy an apartment. She was a retiree and she sent all her money to Jamaica. My conscience bothered me for a long time. But it didn’t stop me. I felt at that time I really wanted the money. But I felt bad where the money was coming from. I don’t know where she is sleeping nowadays but I felt bad about it.”
Scamo offered no advice to those who wanted to get involved in scamming.
“I understand the reasons for the young ones getting into it because of the lifestyle that it provides. It is very wrong and at some time things will come back around. There’s retribution. Lots of persons have lost their lives, their homes, their friends, and family just because they were taken advantage of. Too many persons are being hurt for a few dollars,” he said.
Today, Scamo works in the telecommunications industry.