Criminals in Japan are profiting from the public's fear of prosecutors

by Jake Adelstein

Contributing Writer

A new type of transfer fraud in which perpetrators take advantage of their victims’ fear of prosecution has sparked concern among law enforcement officials in recent weeks.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Metropolitan Police Department have issued a statement warning people about a “wire me the money” fraud that makes use of a fake web page modeled after the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

To carry out such a crime, perpetrators call the victim and pretend to be a prosecutor or someone representing the police. Victims are told that their bank account has been used for fraud, and that those who have lost money have filed criminal charges. Victims are then directed to a phony web page to confirm the situation for themselves. The web page looks genuinely authentic, detailing the crime and listing the victim’s name as a “material witness.”

Victims are then advised to cooperate with the investigation and temporarily transfer their savings to another account if they don’t want their deposits to be frozen. The perpetrators then give victims instructions regarding the transfer.

According to the Tokyo Shimbun, four cases of such fraud have been lodged with the police to date. All four victims were women in their 30s and 40s, who have each lost at least ¥470,000 and, in one case, as much as ¥1.92 million. Total losses are estimated to be nearly ¥4 million ($37,000) and rising.

Naturally, the Metropolitan Police Department has been telling the general public not to transfer money to anyone making themselves out to be a police officer or prosecutor.

The practice appears almost identical to an attempt to swindle money that occurred in June 2015. “Neither employees of the prosecutor’s office nor prosecutors ask people to refer to our home page and wire money into an account,” the Public Prosecutor’s Office warned at the time.

A former prosecutor expressed shock at the brazenness of such attempts.

“There have been cases of people pretending to be prosecutors on the phone before,” the ex-prosecutor said, “but I’ve never known anyone to go so far as to make an elaborate fake copy of our website.”

If at first you don’t succeed, try again?

It’s worth noting that prosecutors are not the only ones who are being leveraged to defraud people out of money. In some cases, perpetrators pretend to be officers from the white-collar crime section and attempt to try the same thing. The Metropolitan Police Department posted a recording of one such call on its website on Feb. 8.

Do such attempts reflect the fact that criminals don’t appear to fear law enforcement in Japan? I guess we’ll never know until they are arrested.

Dark Side of the Rising Sun is a monthly column that takes a behind-the-scenes look at news in Japan.