Watch out for fraudsters

Types of fraud in which swindlers cheat people out of money without ever meeting their victims face to face are on the rise. Such cases include ones in which swindlers posing as relatives phone their victims and persuade them to make bank transfers, and ones involving bogus investment schemes. People — especially the elderly, who are the most frequent fraud victims — should remain vigilant to avoid becoming fraud victims. To this end, educational efforts by police, local governments and members of local communities to raise public awareness of fraud are indispensable.

According to the police, in the first half of 2014 a record ¥26.83 billion was swindled nationwide through such types of fraud, topping the previous high recorded a year ago by ¥5.62 billion — an increase of 26.5 percent. The police recognized 6,167 cases of such fraud in the January-June period, an increase of 777 or 14.4 percent from a year before, including cases of attempted fraud. Women over the age of 70 are the most susceptible to such schemes.

Swindlers not only utilize phone calls but also email and pamphlets to persuade their victims to transfer money to them. In bogus investment schemes, the floating of corporate bonds and offering of pre-listed shares are often used to lure victims. In the past, fraudsters almost always directed their victims to go to a financial institution and transfer money. But after financial institutions began issuing warnings to their customers, fraudsters began to employ new methods, such as sending people posing as their friends to pick up the money from their victims or getting their victims to send money through letter packs or parcel-delivery services. Private mail boxes are frequently used to receive money. A police investigation from January to March revealed that fraudsters submitted false IDs to mail box operators in about 80 percent of the cases.

The average amount swindled in such fraud cases in the first half of 2014 was ¥4.72 million, an increase of ¥460,000 or 10.7 percent from the same period of last year. The police investigated 916 suspects, an increase of 108 from the previous year — in 1,607 cases — up 102 cases from the previous year. But the police were able to arrest only 35 main suspects — seven less than from the January-June period of 2013 — because fraud rings have become more clever and eliminate traces of communication among their members.

A record ¥48.9 billion was swindled in 2013 and the real amount was probably much higher as it’s likely that many cases go unreported. The amount is expected to increase this year. Fraudsters are apparently taking advantage of the weakening of human relationship in communities these days.

People should not lower their guard, thinking that they cannot fall victim to fraud. Materials advertising lucrative investment schemes should set off alarms, as should “emergency” phone calls from people claiming to be relatives and requesting money. The police, local government officials and community volunteers should strive to educate the elderly members of their community about the danger of fraud.

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