Police responded to 118,100 queries about potential online crime such as fraud in 2014, up 39.2 percent from the previous year and a record high since they began collecting data in 2000, the National Police Agency said Thursday.
Of those cases, 58,340 were about fraud and dubious business offers, excluding Internet auctions, according to the agency.
Total financial damage from illegal transfers via online banking also hit a record high of roughly ¥2.91 billion ($24 million), while the number of targeted email attacks designed to steal information more than tripled to 1,723 reported cases from 492 the previous year, the agency said.
Many online fraud cases involved fake websites pretending to be run by existing well-known companies selling established products.
“Computer users need to always keep updating the security of their PCs as these crimes are getting more sophisticated and heinous,” an agency official said.
The tally also includes 14,185 cases involving junk email, up 32.8 percent; 9,757 cases of alleged defamation, up 3.5 percent; 9,550 cases involving unauthorized access and computer viruses, up 53.5 percent; and 6,545 cases involving online auctions, up 10.0 percent.
The police made arrests in 7,905 cases, down slightly year on year, the agency said.
Last year, police took into custody 439 minors under the age of 18 who posted online messages offering to engage in enjo kosai (compensated dating) or to sell their underwear, the agency said.
By having undercover officers make contact online, 31 of the nation’s 47 prefectural police departments caught the minors, of whom 422 were girls, the NPA said.
A total of 284 offered to engage in enjo kosai, in which young girls offered dates or sex for money, and 150 proposed selling their underwear, while the remaining five offered to do both.
High school students made up the largest group, totaling 309, followed by 72 minors not working and 45 junior high school students. The youngest was a 13-year-old girl in her first year of junior high school.
Ninety-seven percent of the minors caught used message boards for exchanging identification codes for free communications apps, or posted messages via Twitter or other social networking services. Smartphone users made up 97 percent, and 61 percent had no previous misconduct or police custody records.
Some girls posted messages and made appointments during school hours.
For example, a 15-year-old girl in her third year of junior high school posted an online message offering to engage in enjo kosai at 8:06 a.m. An undercover police officer sent a reply 15 minutes later and met the girl at 1:10 p.m. to catch her.
Another girl, 14, posted a message at 1:02 p.m. and was caught by police at 5 p.m.
Many parents of those caught said they never imagined their children were engaged in such acts. Some parents said they could not ask what their children were doing with their mobile phones.
There were 11,051 cases in which undercover police officers sent replies, but appointments were not made or the minors in question did not show up for meetings.
“Those who have been caught are just the tip of the iceberg,” an NPA official said.
The agency plans to step up the use of undercover officers to catch such minors online. Such techniques were first introduced by the Shizuoka Prefectural Police in 2009, and expanded across the country in October 2013.