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Teen grilled over ¥400 million scam

Youth, 17, two others tied to 'it's me' frauds; 550 bank cards seized

Kyodo

The Metropolitan Police Department has arrested a high-school student from the western Tokyo suburb of Chofu for allegedly perpetrating an “it’s me” telephone scam that fleeced his victims out of roughly ¥400 million.

Police sources said the 17-year-old denied involvement in the scam as well as allegations that his role was to withdraw the cash from the victims’ bank accounts. His arrest follows that of two other 17-year-old high schoolers believed to be acquainted with him.

The arrest was linked to the case of a 64-year-old man and his wife, 63, residents of the nearby city of Kokubunji, who were conned into transferring ¥1 million last August supposedly needed to help their son settle a dispute over getting a woman pregnant, the sources said.

Police believe the teenager might have called the couple and passed himself off as their son.

Police searched the three youths’ homes and confiscated some 550 bank cards. They confirmed that cash had been withdrawn from bank accounts using about 160 of the cards between last July and December, the sources said.

The police are still investigating and suspect others might be involved in the scheme.

Despite numerous police campaigns, such fraud schemes, which mainly target the elderly, have been on the rise in recent years.

The usual “ore ore sagi” (it’s me, it’s me scam) entails someone telephoning the intended mark and speaking in familiar terms like a family member or acquaintance. The perpetrator claims to be in some kind of financial bind and in quick need of a large sum of cash.

Some fraudsters alternatively pretend to be calling on behalf of a family member and request money to resolve a problem, such as by claiming the family member faces the risk of jail or mob trouble.

The scams usually involve wire transfers. But in some cases, swindlers pretending to be acquainted with the family member collect the cash in person.

According to MPD reports, 1,922 Tokyo residents fell victim to similar scams last year and were fleeced out of about ¥5.5 billion. There were 5,400 “it’s me” scams reported nationwide in 2013 with losses estimated at ¥17.1 billion.

The increase in such cases in Chofu prompted the city to make a 20-minute rental DVD depicting the story of a 70-year-old victim. Designed as a warning to residents, the film was recorded based on reports from several victims. According to the city, 58 residents fell prey to such frauds in 2013 — more than three times the number reported in the previous year.