Jamaica 2013 Crime and Safety Report
Travel Health and Safety; Transportation Security; Threats; Surveillance; Stolen items; Riots/Civil Unrest; Earthquakes; Hurricanes; Maritime; Information Security; Hotels; Financial Security; Burglary; Carjacking; Drug Trafficking; Extortion; Fraud; Kidnapping; Murder; Theft; Counterintelligence
Western Hemisphere > Jamaica > Kingston
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
Kingston is rated “Critical” for crime by the Department of State due to a high frequency of criminal activity throughout Jamaica. Violent crime is a serious problem, particularly in Kingston. In 2012, Kingston saw a reduction in the murder rate and other violent crimes. This reduction may be attributed to proactive police actions. There were 1,083 murders, 1,218 shootings, 763 carnal abuse, 833 rape, 2,679 robberies, 3,094 break-ins, 691 larceny cases recorded in 2012. With a population of approximately 2.7 million people, the number of murders and other violence places Jamaica in the top five tiers of the highest per capita homicide rates in the world. Most violent crimes, in particular murder, involve firearms. There is no evidence that criminals and gang-related activities specifically target U.S. citizens. Crime may be as a result of several factors: poverty, retribution, drugs, gangs, and politics. Providing an environment conducive to crime and hard to police enables criminal elements and gangs to infiltrate wealthier urban areas easily. Most violent crimes take place in these types of areas. Jamaican citizens employed at U.S. Embassy Kingston are victims of crime far more frequently than their American colleagues, a fact attributable to the differing demographics between upscale expatriate neighborhoods and the rest of Kingston in general. Police are unable to patrol and protect most neighborhoods adequately, and as a result, burglaries are quite common. Most wealthy residents hire private armed guard forces to deter criminals.
While Jamaica suffers from a high per capita rate of violent crimes, these occurrences occasionally impact international visitors. Most criminal activity is “Jamaican on Jamaican” violence, often involving organized criminal elements and gangs. Crimes affecting U.S. citizens in 2012 were murder (4); reports of rape and/or sexual assault (15); reported aggravated assaults (4); reported kidnapping (parental kidnappings) (2); domestic violence (5) and reports of child abuse (4). These numbers are not all inclusive, and the numbers for rape and/or sexual assaults are believed to be under reported. Many crimes remain unreported for numerous reasons, including fear of retaliation. A special concern continues to be the number of sexual assaults perpetrated by hotel employees at resort hotels on the north coast and the need for forceful investigation and follow-up by the hotels and by police and other security officials.
Some of the major tourist areas continue to be sites for pick pocketing and petty theft. In several cases, armed robberies turned violent when the victims resisted handing over valuables.
Home break-ins occur in Kingston, even in the gated and affluent neighborhoods. It is important for occupants to use all security features (the entire residential security system) to ensure the highest degree of protection. Some past incidents have shown that when occupants neglected to use one or more of the security features provided, it afforded criminals successful opportunities to gain entry into their residences. Burglary is a crime of opportunity. A burglar will select a target because it offers the best opportunity to carry out the crime undetected and with the fewest number of obstacles. A home that presents itself as unoccupied and insecure is far more likely to be targeted than one properly secured. Most burglars want to spend the least amount of time possible trying to gain access to your residence. Criminals want to get in, steal valuable portable items, and get out undetected. Unfortunately, burglars can do much more than steal your possessions. They can commit rape, robbery, and assault if they are surprised by someone coming home or enter a home that is occupied. Regardless of what we do, we will not be able to eradicate the problem completely.
Overall Road Safety Situation
Drivers and pedestrians should remember that, unlike the United States, driving in Jamaica is on the left-hand side of the road. Breakdown assistance is limited in urban areas and virtually unavailable in rural areas. Nighttime driving is especially dangerous and should be avoided whenever possible. Most roads are paved but suffer from ill repair, inadequate signage, large pot holes, and poor traffic control markings. Roads are often subject to poorly marked construction zones, pedestrians, bicyclists, and, occasionally, livestock. The lack of pedestrian crosswalks requires special vigilance for all pedestrians. Driving habits range from aggressive speeding and disregard for others to inexperience and over-polite behaviors creating uncertainty and hazards to pedestrians.
Drivers should maintain special care when entering traffic circles (“roundabouts”), which are often poorly marked and require traffic to move in a clockwise direction. Motorists entering a roundabout must yield to those already in it. Labeling of roundabout exit points is exceptionally confusing. Failure to turn into the correct flow of traffic can result in a head-on collision.
The A1, A2, and A3 highways are the primary links between the most important cities and tourist destinations. These roads are not comparable to American highways, and road conditions are hazardous due to poor repair, inadequate signage, and poor traffic control markings. The B highways and rural roads are often very narrow and frequented by large trucks, buses, pedestrians, bicyclists, and open range livestock. Highways are traveled at high speeds but are not limited-access.
Drivers and passengers in the front seat are required to wear seat belts, and motorcycle riders are required to wear helmets. Extreme caution should be used in operating motor driven cycles. Several serious and fatal accidents involving American tourists riding in taxis without seat belts take place each year. We urge all passengers to use vehicles equipped with seat belts.
We recommend that no one use public transport other than JUTA or local hotel taxis. Public buses are often overcrowded and a venue for crime.
Prior to any road travel, ensure that your vehicle is in good operating condition, paying particular attention to the engine, brakes, tires, head and tail lights, spare tire and jack, horn and fluid levels; and always carry a first aid kit and advise someone of your travel plans, including anticipated arrival, departure times and contact information. The following items are recommended for extended road trips: cell phone with charger, potable water, non-perishable food items, first-aid kit, jumper cables, spare tire, flares/reflectors, flashlight, and tools (screwdriver, wrench, pliers, etc.).
When parking, avoid leaving your vehicle on the street. Park inside a residential compound, in a parking lot with an attendant, or at least within view of the location of your visit. When parking within a shopping facility lot, be sure to park as close as possible to the store entrance and away from dumpsters, bushes, or large vehicles. Be sure to lock you doors, close windows, and hide shopping bags and gifts/valuables in the trunk, out of sight.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
Jamaica's political system is stable. However, the country's serious economic problems have exacerbated social problems and have become the subject of political debate. High unemployment--averaging 12.5 percent--rampant underemployment, growing debt, and high interest rates are the most serious economic problems.
The two major political parties have links with the two largest trade unions--the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) with the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and the People's National Party (PNP) with the National Workers Union (NWU). The center-right National Democratic Movement (NDM) was established in 1995 and the populist United Peoples Party (UPP) in 2001; neither has links with any particular trade union, and both are marginal movements.
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
Organized crime and other criminal elements are prevalent and extremely active. Most of the criminal activity is gang-related. The police have only resolved (make arrests) 44 percent of homicides annually, and they only convict perpetrators in five percent of the homicide cases. This leads both the public and police to doubt the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, leading to vigilantism, which exacerbates the cycle of violence. Based on their past experiences, most civilians fear that, at best, the authorities cannot protect them from organized criminal elements, and, at worst, are colluding with criminals, leading citizens to avoid giving evidence or witness testimonies.
While there do not appear to be any extremist groups active in Jamaica, lax immigration controls, porous seas, and the ease in which fake Jamaican travel documents can be obtained make the country an attractive target for potential terrorists.
Protests and demonstrations can be unpredictable in time, place, and intensity. Although protests and demonstrations are infrequent in Kingston, they do occur. Even protests and demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. There is no guarantee that a protest will not harm an innocent bystander. Activities observed during past protests include, but are not limited to, using tear gas, rubber bullets, setting off fireworks, rock-throwing, tire burning, road blocks, bus/vehicle burning, and some degree of physical violence between law enforcement and protestors. The U.S. Embassy and U.S. interests within the community are not immune to the effects of these protests.
Unlike weather events, earthquakes strike without warning, sometimes leaving devastation and heartache behind. Although nothing can stop an earthquake, careful preparation and planning can make a difference when it comes to protecting your home and family from the effects of an earthquake.
Preparation tips: Develop an earthquake safety action plan for your family, identifying places that can provide the highest amount of protection during an earthquake and an escape route and off-premises meeting place. Teach family members how to shut off water, gas, and electricity to the house. Purchase at least one multi-purpose dry chemical fire extinguisher. Install smoke detectors and change the batteries. Prepare an emergency supplies kit including a three-day supply of bottled water and non-perishable food, a manual can opener, paper plates, cups, utensils, first-aid kit, flashlight, and battery-operated radio with extra batteries. Attach cabinets and bookcases to the wall using brackets. Secure heavy objects (e.g. television, stereos, computers, armoires) with brackets or safety straps. Secure picture frames, bulletin boards, and mirrors to walls using closed eye screws into wall studs. Apply safety film to windows and glass doors. Anchor large appliances (e.g. refrigerator, stove) to walls using safety cables or straps. Tack down glassware, heirlooms, and figurines with putty. Install latches on kitchen cabinet doors to prevent items from falling.
Safety tips: At the first sign of an earthquake, drop and take cover under a sturdy piece of furniture or against an inside wall away from objects that may fall on you. Sit or stay close to the floor and hold on to furniture legs for balance. Use your arm to cover and protect your eyes. If there is no sturdy furniture nearby, kneel or sit close to the floor next to a structurally sound interior wall away from windows, shelves, or furniture that could fall and place your hands on the floor for balance. Do not run outside – unless the building you are in is determined to be unsafe. If outdoors, quickly move into the open, away from electrical lines, trees and buildings. If driving, bring your vehicle to a stop at the side of the road away from traffic. Do not stop on or under bridges or near/under power lines or road signs.
Recovery tips: Be alert for aftershocks. Look for injured victims and administer first aid. Pay attention to damaged utilities. Avoid loose or dangling electric power lines and report all gas and electrical problems to the proper authorities. Turn off any damaged utilities. Check for fire hazards and use flashlights instead of candles or lanterns. Wear protective shoes. Have them by your bed in case the earthquake happens in the middle of the night. If your building is sound, stay inside and listen for radio advisories.
Earthquakes – Response: No matter where you are, there are steps you can take to protect yourself during an earthquake.
Indoors: Remain indoors. Get under a desk or table or stand in a corner.
Outdoors: Go to an open area away from trees, buildings, walls and power lines.
In a high-rise building: Stay away from windows and outside walls. Get under a table. Do not use elevators.
Driving: Pull over to the side of the road and stop. Avoid overpasses and power lines. Stay inside your car until the shaking is over.
In a crowded public place: Do not rush for the doors. Crouch and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms.
Stay indoors until the shaking stops and you are sure it is safe to exit.
If you are in a mountainous area or near unstable slopes or cliffs, be alert for falling rocks and other debris. Landslides are often triggered by earthquakes.
After the earthquake: Expect aftershocks. Aftershocks frequently occur minutes, days, weeks, and even months following an earthquake. Get everyone outside if your building is unsafe. Exit via the stairs. Aftershocks following earthquakes can cause further damage to unstable buildings. Be aware that fire alarms and sprinkler systems frequently go off in buildings during an earthquake, even if there is no fire. Check for and extinguish small fires. Exit via the stairs if there is fire. Fire is the most common hazard following earthquakes. Clean up spilled chemicals, gasoline, or other flammable liquids immediately. Open closet and cabinet doors cautiously. Contents could have shifted during the shaking and could fall, creating further damage or injury. Check the telephones. Cellular telephone equipment is subject to damage by earthquakes, and cell phones might not be able to get a signal, but land line phones might work.
Jamaica is located right in the middle of “Hurricane Alley” and has experienced several direct hits from hurricanes and/or tropical storms. Looting is a common problem immediately after storms. Hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30. The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) put measures in place in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.
Due to the potential for business closures in Jamaica during and immediately after a hurricane and/or strong tropical storm, we recommend that employees stockpile a two-week supply of food, water, infant formula, prescription medications, etc. If stores and businesses close, it will be important for you to have extra supplies on hand. This can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as natural disasters. Please be sure to have nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
Preparing an Emergency Stockpile of Water: Stocking water reserves and learning how to purify contaminated water should be among your top priorities in preparing for an emergency. You should store at least a two-week supply of water for each member of your family. Everyone’s need will differ, depending upon age, physical condition, activity, diet, and climate. A normally active person needs to drink at least two quarts of water each day. Children, nursing mothers, and ill people will need more. You will need additional water for food preparation and hygiene.
Preparing an Emergency Stockpile of Food: If activity is reduced, healthy people can survive on half their usual food intake for an extended period. Food, unlike water, may be rationed safely, except for children, pregnant women, and ill persons. If your water supply is limited, try to avoid foods that are high in fat and protein and do not stock salty foods since they will make you thirsty. Eat salt-free crackers, whole grain cereals, and canned foods with high liquid content. One should not buy unfamiliar foods to prepare an emergency food supply, but you can use the canned foods, dry mixes, and other staples on your cupboard shelves. In fact, familiar foods are important. They can lift morale and give a feeling of security in time of stress. Also, canned foods will not require cooking, water, or special preparation. Following are recommended short-term and long-term food storage plans.
Storage Tips: Keep food in the driest and coolest spot in the house – a dark area, if possible. Keep food covered at all times. Open food boxes or cans carefully so that you can close them tightly after each use. Wrap cookies and crackers in plastic bags, and keep them in tight containers. Empty opened packages of sugar, dried fruits, and nuts into screw top jars or airtight cans to protect them from pests. Inspect all food containers for signs of spoilage before use. As you stockpile food, take into account your family’s unique needs and tastes. Try to include foods that they will enjoy and that are also high in calories and nutrition. Foods that require no refrigeration, preparation, or cooking are best. Individuals with special diets and allergies will need particular attention, as will babies, toddlers, and the elderly. Nursing mothers may need liquid formula, in case they are unable to nurse. Canned dietetic foods, juices, and soups may be helpful for the ill or elderly. Make sure you have a can opener and disposable utensils. Do not forget nonperishable foods for your pets.
Important Disaster Supplies to Have on Hand: Flashlight and extra batteries, Portable battery-operated radio and extra batteries, First aid kit and manual, Emergency food and water, Essential medicines, Cash and credit cards, and Sturdy shoes.
Jamaica is a transit point for South American cocaine en route to the United States. It is also the largest Caribbean producer and exporter of cannabis (marijuana). The government has a National Drug Control Strategy in place that covers both supply and demand reduction. The government has intensified and focused its law enforcement efforts on more effectively disrupting the trafficking of large amounts of cocaine in Jamaica and throughout its territorial waters. The government also has fully cooperated in several major international narcotics law enforcement initiatives, which have resulted in the arrest and extradition to the United States of high-profile Jamaican, Colombian, Bahamian, and Panamanian narcotics traffickers responsible for the manufacture, trans-shipment, and distribution of vast amounts of cocaine throughout the central Caribbean region.
There are many different types of criminal gangs in Jamaica. Criminal gangs target civilians in a number of ways, including robbery, burglary, carjacking, extortion, fraud, and counterfeiting. But of all the crimes committed by these gangs, perhaps the one that creates the most widespread psychological and emotional damage is kidnapping, which is also one of the most underreported crimes. All of the data regarding kidnapping is based on partial crime statistics and can only produce best-guess estimates. Despite the lack of hard data, there is little doubt that kidnapping is a growing problem/concern in Jamaica.
Kidnapping is a nationwide issue and is executed by a wide range of players with varying levels of professionalism and motives. At one end of the spectrum are high-end kidnapping gangs that target high-profile and/or high-net-worth individuals. Such groups employ teams of operatives who carry out specialized tasks such as collecting intelligence, conducting surveillance, snatching the target, negotiating with the victim’s family, and establishing and guarding the safe houses. On the other end of the spectrum are gangs that roam the streets and randomly kidnap targets of opportunity. These gangs are generally less professional and often will only hold a victim for a short period. In many instances, these groups hold the victim just long enough to use the victim’s ATM card to drain his or her checking account or to receive a small ransom. This type of opportunistic kidnapping is often referred to as an “express kidnapping.” Sometimes express kidnapping victims are held in the trunk of a car for the duration of their ordeal, which can sometimes last for a couple of days if the victim has a large amount in a checking account and a small daily ATM withdrawal limit.
Similar to the perpetrators of a terrorist attack, those conducting a kidnapping are most vulnerable to detection when they are conducting surveillance – before they are ready to deploy and carry out their attack. One of the secrets of counter-surveillance is that most criminals are not very good at conducting surveillance. This is the one and only time the perpetrators are exposed to detection. The primary reason they succeed is that no one is really looking for them. While there is the possibility the kidnappers could botch their operation and the target could escape unscathed, it is not practical to pin one’s hopes on that possibility. It is better to spot the kidnappers early and avoid their trap before it is sprung. Ignoring the very real value of critical, proactive measures such as situational awareness, surveillance recognition, varying your times and routes, and emergency planning can be a fatal mistake.
Another growing scam is the telephonic kidnapping (a.k.a. virtual kidnapping phone calls). Although telephone calls may vary in style, the methodology is invariably the same: the virtual kidnapping call includes a crying/pleading voice immediately after the call is answered and before the “kidnapper” gets on the phone. In this manner, they hope to confuse the victim and get them to give away important information; for example, if the crying voice sounds like your child in any way, and you call out that child’s name, the caller now knows the name of the child that could potentially be a kidnap victim, and will use this knowledge against you. The voice of the “victim” will usually be crying and/or hysterical; this makes it difficult to identify and increase the likelihood that you will believe it is your loved one.
Criminals will try to use fear, tact, and timing against you. For example, they plan their calls to coincide with times when it will be difficult to contact the child or another adult immediately (e.g., when a child is either on his way to or from school). All calls demand money for the release of the loved one and stipulate no police involvement. Often times, the callers will give statements to suggest surveillance, such as: “we saw you at the school with your vehicle.” These are very vague but imply they have been watching your family and use fear and everyday routines against you to reinforce the threat of the kidnapping. One of the most important things for you to know are the details of your family’s travel and location (where are they supposed to be, who are they supposed to be with, etc.). In addition, it is equally important that you ensure good communication (land-line and cell phone numbers) with your family members.
If you become the target of one of these calls, here are some important tips to remember: Try to remain calm! Remember, the vast majority of these calls are a hoax. Whether done as a prank or an attempt to extort money from you, the perpetrators are attempting to exploit your fears. If you have caller ID, write down the number. Do not tell the caller where you live or agree to any money transfer. Never volunteer information. Ask to speak to your child to confirm his/her identity. This will foil the majority of these calls as the virtual kidnapper only has the upper hand as long as you believe that he/she really has your loved one. Do not be afraid to challenge by asking: “what is my child’s name?” If the caller refuses to let you speak with your child and stays on the line (many will hang up at the first sign of stubbornness), ask the caller to ask your child something that is known only to your family. You can work out a secret word or phrase (e.g., favorite toy, pet name, first grade teacher’s name, etc.) to test for identifying a family member. If the caller can answer the question, but does not let you speak with your child, this may be an “inside job,” and they still may not have your loved one.
In the event you cannot locate your child after the caller has successfully answered the question or the caller actually puts your loved one on the line, it is very important that you attempt to do the following: Keep the caller on the line as long as possible and have another family member contact the police. If you are alone, contact the police as soon as possible. Listen and take notes of the demands, tone, or accent of the caller, background noise, and any other important information that could assist the police. Ask for a way to make contact with the caller. If the caller refuses to answer, ask when the next call will come.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) can be reached by dialing 119, which connects the caller to the nearest police station. Police support for foreign victims of crimes runs between semi-responsive and non-responsive due to a shortage of manpower, training, vehicles, and other resources. Although the police receive some training from U.S. and U.K. law enforcement entities, they endure a lack of funding, resources, and management. Police do not usually mistreat Americans who are victims of crime, but response times, investigation techniques, and arrest/conviction rates of suspects are below the standards found in U.S police departments. The Jamaica Constabulary Force is considered to be underpaid, poorly trained and corrupt. The general perception is that the majority of crime victims do not report crimes due to fear of reprisals by the police, the belief that police are corrupt, or the feeling that nothing would come from such reports.
How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment
Police corruption and police involvement in criminal activity is not uncommon. Consequently, citizens are often indifferent to police authority, adding to a perceived sense of lawlessness. Reporting crime can seem archaic and lengthy process and is widely believed a waste of time except for the most serious of crimes where a police report is required for insurance purposes.
Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime
U.S. citizens are advised to cooperate with police if stopped or questioned. If involved in a traffic accident or victimized by crime, one may be required to accompany the investigating police officer to the local police station to file a complaint or respond to questions. Should a police report be required for an insurance claim, a nominal fee will be charged. The police emergency telephone number is 119, whether they arrive in a timely fashion or at all is questionable.
Medical care is more limited than in the United States. Comprehensive emergency medical services are located only in Kingston and Montego Bay. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation can costs thousands of dollars or more. Doctors and hospitals often require cash payment prior to providing services. An ambulance service is available in Kingston at: (876) 978-2327, (876) 978-6021 or (876) 923-7415.
Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics
Although there are several hospitals in Kingston, the recommended hospital for U.S. citizens is the University of the West Indies (UWI) at (876) 927-1620.
In Montego Bay, the Cornwall Regional Hospital (876) 952-9100 or the Montego Bay Hope Medical Center (876) 953-3649 are the recommended facilities.
Medical facilities outside of Kingston and Montego Bay are not recommended by the Embassy medical staff. Visitors in need of medical attention should make every effort to reach Kingston or Montego Bay.
Recommended Air Ambulance Services
For international treatment and medical insurance: AEA International, 206-340-6000. For air ambulance service (recommended for severe injuries or illnesses best treated in the U.S.), AEA International at 800-752-4195.
CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
For health guidance, please visit the CDC International Traveler’s hotline – 24 hour information available at 888-232-6348 or 800-232-4636 -- or http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/jamaica.
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Large criminal elements continue to victimize American citizens with lottery scams. These criminal elements, posing as legitimate lottery companies, have convinced unsuspecting Americans to send large amounts of money in order to obtain claimed lottery winnings. This lottery scam operates predominantly from the north coast at/near tourist resort areas. Persons organizing these scams may be obtaining personal information on tourists and using it to conduct their operations. In addition to a number of lottery and investment scams, relatives of U.S. citizens visiting Jamaica and U.S. citizens who are prisoners in Jamaica have received telephone calls from people claiming to be Jamaican police officers, other public officials, or medical professionals. The caller usually states that the visitor or prisoner has had trouble and needs financial help. In almost every case, these claims are untrue. The caller insists that money should be sent by wire transfer to either themselves or a third party who will assist the visitor or prisoner, but when the money is sent, it fails to reach the visitor or prisoner in alleged need. Do not send money if you receive such a call.
The embassy also received several reports of Americans being victimized in extortion attempts originating in Jamaica where the caller threatens the victim if they do not send a sum of money. Another financial scam reported is the “Damsel in Distress” where a partner met over the Internet falls into a series of unfortunate events and needs money with the promise of rewards at a later date (such as an in-person meeting).
Credit Card/ATM Fraud Scheme - Skimming
Skimming is a hi-tech method by which thieves capture your personal or account information from your credit card, ATM card, driver’s license, or even passport. An electronic device used to capture this information is called a “skimmer” and can be purchased online. Your card is swiped through the skimmer, and the information contained in the magnetic strip on the card is stored on the device and can be downloaded to a computer. Skimming is predominantly a tactic used to perpetuate credit card fraud, but it is also gaining popularity amongst identity thieves. Skimming is a global problem. As the use of smart card technology grows, as evident with its integration with driver’s licenses and passports, it is likely that skimming will continue to grow as a popular tactic of identity thieves.
Skimmers are quite a creative bunch. Since the skimming devices are so small and easy to hide, it is not difficult for them to skim your card without you noticing. The following are some examples of how your cards can be skimmed:
Your credit card can be skimmed at a restaurant. Many skimming rings have been known to employ restaurant serving staff to capture your credit card information. Most skimming incidents occur at a restaurant where a server is carrying a skimming device in his apron or somewhere close by. Your card is scanned twice, once for the transaction that you expected and again in the skimming device to capture your credit card information for further use.
It is not uncommon for a thief to be bold enough to tamper with an ATM. Typically, a "card trapping" device is inserted into the ATM card slot. This trap scans the card and stores its associated information or just traps the card and does not return it. There is no cash dispensed in either case, and the crooks retrieve the cards and information at a later time. ATM skimming has been a problem worldwide, with estimates, that 1 in every 28 ATM machines had been equipped with skimmers from thieves. Skimming is becoming more sophisticated where thieves are rigging card payment terminals with electronic equipment to capture the card information. The recorded card numbers are stored in an additional implanted chip and thieves return at a later time for retrieval.
Another common form of skimming involves store clerks skimming your credit card when you make a purchase. There have also been reports of clerks skimming driver’s licenses when customers are writing checks and supply the license for verification.
Once a skimmer captures the information on your credit card, ATM card, driver’s license, or passport it can be used in a variety of ways. Many times the criminals skimming your information into the devices are not the same criminals that will use that information to commit identity theft or other crimes of fraud. The "skimmers" will sell your information to other criminals--typically for about $25-$75 each.
Credit cards are a popular choice for skimmers. The information that is obtained can be used to order products and services online sometimes for several weeks until the unsuspecting victim is made aware, giving the thieves plenty of time to run up some bills. You also likely realize that it can take 30 - 60 days before you would even know that you were a victim, leaving the criminal plenty of time to get away. Statistics show that the longer it takes to discover identity theft and account fraud, the greater the financial impact to the victim.Once the information from your credit card, driver’s license, or passport is captured, it can be used to make duplicates. Duplicates are very valuable, as they can be used to further perpetuate credit card fraud or identity theft.
Here are some things that you can do to lessen the chances that you will become a victim of this tactic: To protect against skimming, closely watch anyone that you give your card to for processing. If at all possible, do not let them out of your sight. If a clerk makes a hard copy, retrieve the carbons. Keeping a low limit on your credit cards restricts the amount of money that thieves can steal. Although not exactly a prevention tactic, it will help if you fall victim. Sign all credit cards immediately upon your receipt of them. You can also write "Check ID" so that the clerk, if they actually read the back, will ask for ID for verification during a transaction. It is important to cancel all credit cards that you do not use and to monitor the ones that you do use. The first step to prevent skimming is to understand what is going on around you. When at an ATM, cover the key pad when entering your PIN. Prior to inserting your ATM card, check the card reader to make sure that it looks appropriate and is not altered. Do not leave receipts at ATMs, teller windows, gasoline pumps, or with a clerk. Some people make it easy for criminals by writing the PIN to their credit/debit card on something that they keep in their wallet or on back of the card itself! Commit the PIN to memory, as it is very obvious that a thief having the card and the PIN is not going to work out well for you.
Credit cards, ATM cards, driver’s licenses, and passports are parts of our everyday life. We need them, and in many ways we cannot live without them. However, all experts agree that skimming is on the rise and is a favored tactic with criminals committing identity theft and other crimes of fraud. It is difficult to prevent skimming but with some common sense you can lessen your chances of falling victim.
Carjacking refers to the robbery of a motorist in which his vehicle is stolen. Motorists are most vulnerable to this type of crime when they stop at traffic control devices, when entering or exiting their vehicles, and just about anytime they stop their vehicle. Awareness and planning can help you avoid becoming a victim of this type of crime. One tactic used in Jamaica is the “bump-and-rob.” A car carrying a driver and at least one passenger will “innocently” bump their intended victim from the rear. When the victim jumps out of their car to inspect the damage, the extra person jumps into the victim’s vehicle and drives away. The victim is usually submissive, as he is usually looking at some sort of weapon. To minimize your risk of being carjacked, here are some common sense steps:
Before you go…Select a safe route. Well lit and well traveled streets are generally safe. Have an alternate route in mind in case of problems. Keep your vehicle in good repair and be aware of your fuel level. Travel with a friend when possible – a person alone is more vulnerable. Keep your car keys separate from your house keys. Keep doors locked and windows up. Do not leave mail and other items that list your address in the car.
Getting there…Always be aware of your surroundings, especially people on foot near your car. Be suspicious of anyone approaching your vehicle (handing out flyers, asking for change, asking for directions, etc.). If someone asks for assistance, do not get out of your vehicle. Go to a safe location and call the authorities. Travel in the lane closest to the center of the road whenever legally possible. Always leave plenty of room between your car and other vehicles to allow yourself a way out. Always be alert for motorcycles or bicycles stopping next to your car, especially if there are two riders. If you are bumped, be suspicious. Check out the car and occupants. If you are not sure of the situation, memorize or write down the car’s license number and description, and signal/wave the other car to follow you to the nearest safehaven. If you have to exit your vehicle, take your keys and purse/wallet.
Upon arrival…Park in well lit and well traveled areas. Look around for suspicious persons and possible hiding places (darkened doorways, etc.). If in doubt, do not get out of your vehicle. Drive away and park someplace else. Report any suspicious activity to the authorities. Always lock your car and take your keys with you – even for brief errands. Be especially cautious when using ATMs. Use valet parking or an attended garage. Do not make yourself an attractive target by leaving your purse or valuable in plain view or by placing valuables in your trunk upon arrival. Place them in the trunk before departing your residence. Do not be distracted by talking on the cell phone, eating, etc.
Returning to your vehicle…Be aware of persons loitering near your vehicle or suspicious persons sitting in vehicles. Be aware of any tampering with your vehicle. If you think your vehicle has been tampered with, do not get in it. Notify the authorities. Do not turn your back while loading packages and/or groceries. If you are alone, ask for a security escort or use the grocery store bagger. Teach and practice with your children to enter and exit the car quickly. Make it a habit to always start your car quickly and drive away immediately. When approaching your parked car, have your car keys in hand.
If you become a victim…We strongly caution that resisting or attempting to flee may place you in great danger. Your personal safety – not the potential loss of property – must always remain the primary concern. Resistance to the robber’s demands, especially if they have a weapon or say they have a weapon, may escalate the situation and increase the risk of personal harm to you or family members. Your best course of action is to plan ahead and be prepared.
Areas to be Avoided and Best Security Practices
Embassy personnel and private American citizens are advised to avoid traveling in into notoriously high-threat areas of Kingston including, but not limited to, Mountain View, Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, Cassava Piece, and Arnett Gardens; and Flankers, Canterbury, Norwood, Rose Heights, Clavers Street, and Hart Street in Montego Bay. Travelers are encouraged to check with the U.S. Embassy for current information prior to their trip.
Although this critical crime threat environment can be a threat to visitors and residents alike, simple precautions such as not wearing expensive jewelry, watches, displaying large amounts of cash, driving with the doors locked and windows up, not walking after dark, and staying out of particularly high crime areas may help to mitigate the numbers of crimes committed against Americans. Visitors should take all necessary precautions and always be aware of their surroundings. We encourage visitors to accept personal responsibility for their safety. This checklist is a generic self-assessment instrument for visitors to evaluate their daily habits and practices to improve their own security awareness:
Vary your times and routes to and from work. Be unpredictable in both your work and social schedules.
Keep your doors and windows closed and locked (residence and vehicle).
Check the interior and exterior of your vehicle prior to getting into your vehicle. Look for anomalies or other things that do not belong in your car.
Maintain a low profile by not doing anything that draws attention to yourself. Dress casually and keep valuables out of sight. Do not wear expensive jewelry or carry expensive bags/briefcases while walking. Avoid walking around at night.
Attempt to identify and report persons or vehicles possibly involved in surveillance.
Be aware of your surroundings and to what is going on around you.
Ensure colleagues and family members are aware of your plans and have contact info.
While in traffic, leave enough space in which to maneuver your vehicle. Always leave yourself an exit. Be prepared to take evasive action at any time.
Avoid choke points while traveling. Be wary of diversions.
Know where the nearest safe haven (police station, hotel, public facility) is in case you are being followed or harassed. Never lead them back to your home or stop and get out.
Always try to travel in groups.
Avoid conversations with beggars as they can become easily confrontational.
While in restaurants, find a seat in an area not clearly visible from the street.
To avoid a kidnapping, you should: Vary your times and routes to and from work; Keep your doors locked and windows closed (both residence and vehicle); Maintain a low personal profile; Pay attention to what is going on around you; Inform family of your daily plans and do they know how to get in contact with you; Try to make yourself unpredictable in both your work and social schedule.; Avoid chokepoints; In traffic, always leave enough space to maneuver. Always leave an exit; Know where to go if you think you’re being followed/surveilled. Never lead the person. back to your house. Drive to the nearest safehaven (police station, embassy, hotel, hospital, public facility, etc.); Know how to recognize surveillance; and Ensure all family members are briefed on security measures.
Personal Security While Shopping
Stay alert and be aware of what’s going on around you. Park in well-lighted spaces, as close to the store entrance as possible and away from dumpsters, bushes, or large vehicles. Be sure to lock your doors, close the windows, and hide shopping bags and gifts in the trunk. If shopping near your home, consider returning home to drop off gifts. They will be safer there than in your car. Never leave your car unoccupied with the motor running or with children inside. A car can be stolen in seconds. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash; pay with a credit card whenever possible (but make sure you watch the person handling your credit card. Do not let them walk away with your card and make sure they only swipe it once in front of you). Keep a record of all your credit and debit card numbers in a safe place at home so you can report lost or stolen cards by their numbers. Carry your keys, cash, and credit cards separate from each other. Remember exactly where you parked your car. Make a mental note or write it down so you will know. If you need to use an ATM, use one inside the mall or some other well-lit, populated area. Be aware of your surroundings as you come and go from your car. Have your keys out and in your hand so you do not have to fumble to find them in the parking lot. Do not be shy about asking mall or store security personnel for an escort. Teach children to go to a store clerk or security guard if you get separated. Also, have a family “code word” in case you get separated. This word can be given to security staff so that your child can discern friend from foe.
Following these common sense security practices will go a long way in protecting you and your family. Know who belongs and does not belong in your neighborhood. Be alert to suspicious persons or vehicles and report them to the police. Do not keep valuables, heirlooms, passports, important documents or large sums of money in your residence. If a safe is available in your office to secure these items, use it. Only keep in your residence items you can afford to lose. If you do not have access to a safe or lockable cabinet at work, consider investing in a home safe, which is placed out of sight. Make an inventory of personal property, record the serial numbers and take photographs of all valuable items, and ensure these items are covered under your home insurance policy. Keep a second copy of this information in your office. If a disturbance occurs in the vicinity of your residence, ensure that doors, windows, and grilles are secured. In addition, stay away from windows and alert the police. It is recommended that you store emergency contact numbers in your cell phone (with the prefix "AA" in front of the name so they will be the first two numbers posted alphabetically in your phone book). Post these emergency numbers next to all landlines in the home. Jamaica operates a 119 police, 110 for ambulance and fire system which is similar to the 911 system in the USA. You can use these numbers to request police, ambulance, and fire assistance. Blinds, drapes, and curtains should be arranged so that movement within the house is not easily observed from the street. Get to know your neighbors. Keep an eye on your neighbors’ homes. Report anything suspicious to the police. Play the “what if” game with family members. Go through different scenarios: “being followed home, an assault, a burglar in the house, etc.” Rehearse safety drills and be aware of procedures to escape danger and obtain help. Teach them how to lock and unlock doors, gates, and grilles. Inform them who to contact and how to contact help in an emergency. Develop a simple easy-to-follow plan. Know the neighborhood name, street name, and the actual number to your house to help expedite an emergency response. Valuable time can be wasted if this information is not at hand.
When entering and departing your residence, we recommend that you: Vary daily routines; try to avoid predictable patterns when departing and arriving from/to your home. Remember when you are leaving or entering your home to be aware of your surroundings and to anyone who may be in the immediate vicinity. When you leave or enter your residence, do not rely on the door closing properly on its own. Physically check to see that the door is secured. This is especially important for garage doors. Do not drive off for a weekend vacation leaving your garage door opened. When away, make your residence look occupied. Use timers for lights, radios, and TVs. Do not let newspapers pile-up. Do not place a note on the door that reveals that your home is unoccupied. If you plan to be away from your residence for more than 24 hours, ask a trusted colleague/neighbor to keep an eye on your property. Consider leaving a copy of your keys with them in case of an emergency. Tell them of your travel plans and when you plan to return. Maintain control of your keys. Do not give a copy of a key to the guard/domestic help. If you must give a key to your domestic help, only give one key (each exterior door should have two locks). Do not leave keys in the locks for convenience. Never hide a spare key to your residence under a mat, in your mailbox, or near an entrance to your residence. Hide your car keys in the house (criminals have been known to burglarize homes and drive away in the occupant’s vehicle).
When someone is at your door, we recommend the following: Make sure you are confident about who you are allowing in. Personnel are urged not allow anyone access to your residence that you are not expecting or know. Remember – you are not obligated to open the door to a stranger! Use your door viewer to identify visitors. Unannounced or unidentified visitors should not be admitted into the home. If you do not have a door viewer, you should think about having one installed. Speak with them through the door. If they claim to be policemen or other officials (from maintenance, a utility company, a survey company, etc.) ask them to show their identification and ask for their supervisor’s name and telephone number. Make sure that children and domestic staff are also briefed on how to answer a door. This also applies to the person that shows up at your door and requests to make an emergency call. Crooks can be very convincing. Offer to make the call for them. Remember that some burglars will operate in pairs. One will try and stall you at the front door, while the other is looking for another way to get into your residence.
Lock all doors, windows, and garages when you are away from home as well as when in-residence. There have been incidents where intruders have entered an unsecured door while the occupant was at home. Additionally, secure all sliding glass doors and never leave doors or windows open when you are sleeping (unless you have locked grilles). Periodically examine your padlocks, grilles, and other security features for signs of tampering. Criminals have been known to visit a residence over an extended period of time to cut through locks or grills little-by-little, thus minimizing the overall noise they make and the time it takes them to gain entry.
Garage doors are a frequent point of entry for many burglars in the U.S. and Jamaica. If you are storing your bicycles in the garage, remember to chain lock them. You should also ensure that your vehicle is secured and that there are no valuables left in it.
If you have window grilles and bars, review fire safety plans for escaping your home with your family. Learn how to operate the emergency escape devices installed to egress from a bedroom window during an emergency. Do not block bedroom windows if they may be used for emergency egress. Keep at least one good fire extinguisher on each floor. This is especially important in the kitchen. Learn and show family members and domestic help how to use an extinguisher. Keep flashlights in several areas within the house. Check the batteries often, particularly if you have children in your home that might play with flashlights. Make sure smoke detectors are tested and that the batteries have been changed. Each entrance and each perimeter façade should be well illuminated. Use all porch and perimeter lighting in the evenings and during the night. Check lighting regularly and replace burned out exterior security lighting. If you have a residential alarm, use it. Be sure family members know how to use it as well. Learn how to operate your alarm system, including the different securing modes that it can be set to. Each system comes with a panic code capability. These systems are battery powered, so it is important to be able to tell when these need to be changed. If your alarm is triggered, immediately lock yourself inside your designated safe haven. Notify the police. DO NOT leave this area until you are satisfied that the situation is all clear. Do not leave codes/passwords by the keypad. Keep them hidden so they cannot be used by an intruder.
Housekeepers and Childcare:
When choosing domestic staff, remember that they can aid or detract from the security of your household. You should try to find someone previously used by other expatriates. Conduct police and reference checks on all domestic staff before you make a hiring decision. Ensure that your domestic employees are aware of proper security practices. This should be rehearsed and re-briefed from time to time. Go over proper telephone answering procedures. They should never give a caller the impression that nobody is home or tell the caller when you are expected home. They should be instructed to say that you are busy and will return the call, taking the caller’s name and phone number. Instruct them not to answer questions from strangers concerning your family. Resist giving domestic staff a key if possible. If you must give them one, give only those needed. Get all keys back after terminating a servant. Advise them not to carry your keys in their purses of backpacks. Thieves have been known to target personnel who work in affluent neighborhoods as domestic staff in an effort to obtain keys for easy access to homes. This will also prevent you from having to pay for re-keying the locks in your home if their purse is stolen. Instruct domestic staff that no one is to enter your residence without your permission. Monitor their activities from time to time. Suspicious activity on the part of domestic staff should be reported to the police. Ensure they know how to reach you or emergency personnel by phone. Make sure they know to report to you all suspicious or unusual activity. Domestic staff should not be allowed to overhear family plans or official. Letters and business information should not be left unsecured in the residence.
Residential Telephone Security:
Never volunteer name, address, or telephone number to an unknown caller. All family members should memorize telephone numbers for emergency use and know how to use the local telephones. Establish a family code word for use in emergencies. Every member of your family should know how to request the assistance of local police, fire department, ambulance, or other emergency services. This, along with emergency numbers, should be posted by every phone in the house. Any unusual occurrences, such as anonymous phone threats or harassing calls, should be reported to the police. Remember to be discreet with certain information (travel plans, personal problems, and gossip concerning family or office personnel). Home telephones at posts around the world have been known to be tapped.
U.S. Embassy/Consulate Location and Contact Information
Embassy/Consulate Address and Hours of Operation
Business hours for the Embassy in Kingston are 7:15 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday.
Embassy/Consulate Contact Numbers
In the event of an emergency during business hours (7:15am – 4:00pm), the U.S. Embassy operator can assist U.S. citizen travelers in contacting the American Citizen Services (ACS) officers in the consular section. After business hours and on weekend and holidays, the U.S. Embassy Marine Security Guard can assist U.S. citizen travelers in contacting the Embassy’s Duty Officer for assistance with their emergency. The Marine Security Guard is there to assist in emergency situations only. All other calls should be placed during normal embassy business hours.
Please call the following numbers for assistance:
U.S. embassy switchboard: (876) 702-6000
U.S. Marine Security Guard: (876) 702-6055
Regional Security Office: (876) 702-6153 or through the Marine Security Guard
OSAC Country Council Information
The Department of State and U.S. Embassy Kingston support an active OSAC Country Council with a growing membership. The OSAC Country Council was re-established in January 2012, and the point of contact is Regional Security Officer (RSO), Vincent Cooper, who can be reached at (876) 702-6153 and Coopervt@state.gov.