National / Crime & Legal

Japan records 42 victims of human trafficking in 2017

JIJI, Kyodo

The number of Japanese and foreign victims of human trafficking in Japan totaled 42 in 2017, including 15 high school girls who were forced to perform in pornographic videos, National Police Agency data showed Thursday.

While the overall figure was down for the second straight year, Japanese victims totaled 28 — up three from the year before — hitting a record high since similar numbers became available in 2001.

Of the Japanese victims, 23 people — about 80 percent — were minors. More than half were high school girls, 18 of whom were forced to appear in pornographic videos and do other work after applying online for jobs as cosplay models. The youngest was a 12-year-old girl who was forced to work in a massage parlor in Kawasaki.

Last year, Osaka police arrested the operator of a website that sold DVDs for soliciting models online, and forcing girls who applied to sign a contract to perform in pornographic videos.

Foreign victims numbered 14, with seven from Thailand, five from the Philippines and one each from Vietnam and Brazil, the figures showed. Most of the foreign victims were working at massage parlors and other outlets offering sexual services, and were forced to provide sex.

Authorities uncovered 46 human trafficking cases in 2017, up by two from the previous year. Thirty suspects, including 25 Japanese nationals, were accused of violating laws related to immigration, amusements or the operation of a business.

The internet has made it easier to get involved with people engaged in human trafficking, and young people are particularly vulnerable, agency officials said.

The agency also released figures on fraud cases in 2017, which rose to 28.6 percent from the previous year to 18,201, in the seventh consecutive annual gain. Elderly people were particularly vulnerable to such crimes, the figures show.

But losses in so-called special fraud cases, which include targeting elderly people by impersonating their children in phone calls and requesting urgent money transfers, dropped 4.3 percent from the year before to some ¥39.03 billion ($357 million), preliminary data showed.

An NPA official underlined the importance of preventing fraud targeting the elderly, noting that cases involving victims aged 65 or older accounted for 72.3 percent of the total. The agency is set to conduct a large-scale survey of victims as part of its efforts to prevent such crimes.

While losses in five prefectures, including Aomori and Miyazaki, more than halved in 2017, both the number of fraud cases and the amount of financial damage increased in 16 prefectures, mainly in Tokyo, Kanagawa and other metropolitan areas, according to the NPA.

While special fraud cases declined, the number of phone scams involving the impersonation of victims’ children or grandchildren soared 47.3 percent to 8,475, resulting in financial losses of ¥20.34 billion. Cases involving charging people for visiting websites they never actually used surged 53.8 percent to 5,754, with losses of ¥12.79 billion. Counted together with cases in which scammers guided victims over the phone to make ATM transfers, by making them believe they could get refunds, these three types accounted for more than 90 percent of all detected fraud cases.

But the number of ATM refund scams fell 14.8 percent to 3,137 after financial institutions took measures to either block or limit money transfers by elderly people who have never used ATMs to wire money.

The average value of losses from fraud slipped 26.3 percent to some ¥2.27 million per case. The largest financial loss was suffered by a woman in her 70s in the city of Niigata who was defrauded of about ¥220 million.

Although the number of detected fraud cases took a downward turn following a record 25,667 cases in 2004, the figure began climbing again in 2010.