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OSAKA — Police searched the offices of a self-styled investment advisory firm Wednesday over allegations that it solicited money for stock investments without a broker’s license, investigation sources said.

Kokusai Toshi Keizai Kenkyujo, based in Osaka’s Chuo Ward, is believed to have collected hundreds of millions of yen from investors across the country.

The number of instances in which the company failed to invest clients’ funds in stocks and refused to comply with their demands for the money to be returned also leads Osaka Prefectural Police to suspect fraud, the sources said.

As in the Toshi Journal bogus investment scheme of the early 1980s, the firm mainly targeted elderly individuals who were largely unaware of the finer details of stock transactions.

The day’s raid by Osaka police — investigating suspected violations of the Securities and Exchange Law — covered 17 locations, including the firm’s headquarters as well as securities companies with which it had been doing business.

With evidence gathered during the search, police plan to question the firm’s president, Takeshi Akamatsu, 60, in the near future, the sources said.

According to the sources, the company, without registering itself with the Financial Reconstruction Commission, collected money from two elderly women, in Shizuoka and Kanagawa prefectures, on nearly 60 occasions since last June.

It promised to arrange investments totaling 125 million yen in 11 different issues.

Kokusai Toshi Keizai Kenkyujo was established in July 1998.

It attracted individual investors by promising hefty returns and offering them “trustworthy investment information” that it said was gathered from overseas affiliates, and put the clients’ money in stocks through seven Osaka-based brokerages, the sources said.

Last October, local financial authorities began an informal investigation after they received an anonymous phone call saying a company in Osaka was engaged in stock brokerage operations without a license and urging them to take action before more clients were defrauded.

Police investigators believe the firm is just one example of bogus investment schemes targeting “amateur” investors, who are increasingly turning to stocks amid the continuance of the Bank of Japan’s low-interest rate policy.

The Japan Securities Dealers’ Association has introduced a variety of measures to encourage small-lot transactions by individual investors with limited funds. Many individuals are also starting Internet-based stock trading.

Against this backdrop, companies offering investment advice to such people are booming, with their number nearly doubling from a decade ago.

But the number of complaints is also rising against bogus firms operating without a license, according to police. Some of the illicit businesses try to lure investors by offering them hefty loans if they put up a certain amount of “guarantee money.”

Police also suspect such businesses share a list of customers who have previously been the target of investment fraud.

The JSDA is urging investors to confirm whether their advisory firms are properly licensed and demand a full explanation about the risks involved in the investment schemes they offer.