National / Crime & Legal

Police say rumors of foreign looters in Hiroshima unfounded

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The Hiroshima Prefectural Police said Wednesday they had no information to substantiate online rumors that foreigners were burglarizing houses in areas of the city hit hardest by last week’s deadly mudslides.

No suspects had been arrested on suspicion of burglarizing, as of Tuesday. However, the police said that due to the rumors, they were beefing up patrols in the affected areas.

Rumors about foreign burglars began circulating on Twitter and social media sites that espouse right-wing and often xenophobic views, soon after the heavy rains hit parts of the city on Aug. 20, leaving 70 people dead in mudslides and forcing about 1,300 people from their homes.

According to the prefectural police website, there has been at least one possible phone scam in which a mudslide victim received a call around last Friday from a person claiming to represent a local bank and asking for a donation for the victims. The caller hung up when asked for confirmation of his identity, police said.

On Monday, following reports of fake police and city officials visiting homes and asking for cash donations, police warned residents to be on guard and confirm the identity of anyone requesting donations.

On Saturday, Kyodo News reported that a 73-year-old man returned to his damaged home after a couple of days and discovered it had been vandalized.

Unfounded rumors on social media of a spike in foreign crime appeared following the March 2011 quake and tsunami in Tohoku, forcing police and other officials to warn against false reports. There were also false rumors of a wave of crime by foreigners in Kobe following the 1995 earthquake.