‘Wangiri’ operators get suspended prison terms

Three people who defrauded cellular phone owners through single-ring “wangiri” calls were given suspended prison sentences Friday of between 10 and 12 months.

Masami Tanaka, 27, Katsuaki Saito, 45, and Yasuo Suzuki, 34, were convicted in the Tokyo District Court of violating a public obscenity law.

According to the ruling, believed to be the first against wangiri operators, the three placed random calls to mobile-phone users between February and March using a device installed in Tanaka’s house. They also sent spam to people who use e-mail-enabled mobile phones.

The three played back obscene messages to those who returned the calls after seeing a phone number left on their cell phone display, charging them exorbitant fees.

The defendants earned about 30 million yen by using a number of part-time workers to collect usage fees, the court found.

Presiding Judge Yuichi Okada ruled that the three men “lacked a sense of ethics by resorting to nasty means to make money.”

Wangiri scams are on the rise throughout Japan, though recent media coverage appears to have raised public awareness.

On Wednesday, telecommunications ministry officials said the ministry plans to seek penalties of up to one year in prison or fines as high as 1 million yen against those responsible for making such calls.

The ministry has been seeking ways to rein in the phenomena because wangiri operators have repeatedly paralyzed broad areas of the nation’s telephone networks by placing massive numbers of random calls.

The term wangiri is derived from combining the English word “one,” pronounced “wan,” and the Japanese word “kiru,” meaning “to cut off.”