The National Police Agency said Thursday it will develop a data-sharing system aimed at curbing the surge in crimes involving counterfeit credit cards, which caused losses exceeding 9 billion yen last year.

The new system, which will analyze fake cards seized nationwide, will help investigators work out the characteristics of forgery devices and crack down on counterfeiting rings, NPA officials said.

The NPA has applied for some 548 million yen in the supplementary budget for this fiscal year to develop a system for analyzing data on fake credit cards and to equip each prefectural police force with terminals to access the system.

One common method of credit card crime, called skimming, involves stealing personal information from cards by implanting devices in card-reading machines used at restaurants and shops.

The stolen data is then input into blank cards, although the data on the new cards can indicate what kind of devices were used in forging the credit cards, according to police.

The new system will enable police to detect, classify and accumulate the characteristics of forgery devices and give investigators a clearer picture of the activities of counterfeiting rings, the NPA officials said.

As there is no law in Japan against stealing data from credit cards or possessing forged cards, the Justice Ministry plans to submit a bill to the Diet to close this loophole.

The NPA is also urging credit card companies to make their cards more difficult to forge, encouraging the use of cards with integrated circuits instead of magnetic strips.

According to an association of credit card companies, damage caused by use of forged cards in 1999 amounted to 9.1 billion yen — about 3.2 times more than in the previous year.

In 1998, some 240 million credit cards were issued, with credit card purchases amounting to 19 trillion yen, the association said.

Police sources said foreigners are sometimes found to be the leaders of wide-reaching forgery rings.

In one of the most extensive forgery busts, Osaka Prefectural Police in 1998 uncovered a ring whose roots were traced to a traditional Chinese secret organization that had been forging credit cards at locations in Tokyo, Chiba and Osaka prefectures.

In June 1999, Chiba Prefectural Police discovered that a group of Malaysians had been operating a card forging operation in Tokyo. They confiscated blank cards, dozens of forged cards and devices used to make the cards.

Police officials said one major reason Japan that falls prey to foreign counterfeiting organizations is because its legal system is not as strict as those of other industrialized countries with regard to possession of forged cards or the stealing of card data.

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