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Nearly 30,000 complaints made about online fraud

Consumers still falling for shady websites

Kyodo

Consumer complaints over online merchants selling fake brand products and fraudulent Internet banking services continue running high in Japan, prodding police to take action in concert with providers of computer security software.

The National Police Agency said it received around 29,113 requests for consultations about online fraud last year and the figure for the first half of this year surpassed around 15,615. The sums exclude those concerning fraudulent transactions on Internet auction sites.

There appear to be certain features shared by such fraudulent sites, such as excessive discount offerings, suspicious-looking contact information, or a lack of contact information, inability to use credit cards and information written in awkward Japanese. The police are urging consumers to be aware of them.

A website confirmed by the Metropolitan Police Department in Tokyo displayed images of luxury goods, including an offer of a wristwatch at a 90 percent discount. The website has the same name as an existing legitimate online store but does not list any contact phone number.

A man in his 40s contacted the Tokyo police in early November about an order he placed for a pair of boots priced at ¥48,000, significantly lower than the regular retail price from a website.

The man felt suspicious when the merchant’s bank account was registered under a Chinese person’s name but made a payment anyway. The product was never delivered, and the website was taken down later.

The renowned bag manufacturer Yoshida & Co. has spotted at least 20 websites selling its products without permission and receives a few inquiries every week about potentially fraudulent websites. “We want customers to closely check the vendor,” an official at Yoshida said.

At the Consumer Affairs Agency’s Cross-Border Consumer Center, an official noted that those websites “used to primarily focus on brand goods, but a growing number of fraudulent sites are reported this year selling everyday items such as ballpoint pens.”

The NPA plans to provide information on fake vendors using overseas servers to 10 companies offering computer security software and website filtering services. The agency is hoping these companies will warn consumers through computer virus software or filtering services if they attempt to access a blacklisted site.

Osaka Prefectural Police have also been providing similar website information to makers of computer security software since March. A total of 1,798 website addresses have been provided as of November, according to the prefectural police.

Fukuoka and Tokyo police cracked down on a trading company in November for receiving funds from fraudulent websites and found a bank account under a Chinese person’s name with more than ¥1.1 billion remitted to it.

A Tokyo police official said: “Most fraudulent sites have bank accounts listed under Chinese people’s names. Fraud groups from China could be operating.”

In the Internet banking sphere, the NPA reported earlier this month that around ¥1.184 billion in deposits was fraudulently siphoned off through 1,125 cases of theft of user IDs and passwords between January and November.

The 11-month tally was around four times greater than a record ¥308 million marked in the whole of 2011. The number of cases was around seven times higher than the 165 in 2011.

Victims were users of 25 banks, including Japan Post’s Yucho, Mizuho, Rakuten and Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.

In most cases, IDs and passwords were stolen by infecting users’ personal computers with viruses. Phishing, a method to draw users to fraudulent sites that look like ones provided by the banks, was used in 28 cases, according to the agency.

Some stolen money — around ¥260 million — was withdrawn and sent to 10 countries, including Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Turkey and France, using the Western Union and MoneyGram remittance services, the agency said.