National / Media | DARK SIDE OF THE RISING SUN

Beware of the ¥10 million business card

by Jake Adelstein

Contributing Writer

Business cards carry a lot of weight in Japan, so much so that they can be used to devastating effect if someone decides to deploy them for criminal purposes.

A recent case highlights the danger that comes with placing trust in such cards. At the end of August, prosecutors in Tochigi Prefecture indicted a former employee of a subsidiary of travel agency JTB Corp. on suspicion of fraud.

Yoshinobu Tamura, 49, is suspected of swindling 51 people out of a total of ¥2.4 billion in a currency exchange scam.

Prosecutors claim Tamura defrauded a 58-year-old male executive in the city of Maebashi out of ¥10 million in cash on March 20, 2016, by claiming the money would be exchanged for U.S. dollars and result in a dividend. At the time of his arrest, the police alleged Tamura had used his business card and misleading promotional material to convince dozens to entrust him with money between 2010 and June 2016.

Just before the police launched an investigation in the matter in July 2016, Tamura turned himself in.

“The business I’ve been barely running has collapsed,” Tamura told the police. JTB subsequently fired him.

It’s not clear why Tamura did what he did, but the story reminds me of a similar experience I had in 2004.

Working as a reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun assigned to the Metropolitan Police Department, I heard that an employee of Nikko City Group Securities was being investigated for fraud. The suspect was a close friend of mine from college.

The police suspected my friend of claiming to represent a company that offered a savings fund that paid an annual interest rate of 15 percent. Using his company’s logo, my friend approached numerous clients by email and collected $1 million from 30 people. He paid a little interest on the first investments and convinced people to offer up more capital.

By the time I had caught wind of my friend’s actions, he had already been fired. I sat with my friend in a park and tried to convince him that he had no alternative than to turn himself in to the police. It was a difficult conversation for me to have with someone I had trusted. In the end, however, my friend agreed.

He had spent the money on women and entertainment, picking up the bill whenever possible. He had always been known to be generous with his own money, and he was even more so when spending other people’s investments. He honestly believed he would pay it all back until, ultimately, he accepted the fact that he couldn’t.

I introduced my friend to a lawyer who accompanied him to the police when he made his confession.

“I deceived people who trusted me and I’m sorry,” my friend told the officers. “I want to pay for my crimes.”

I filed a story on the case in August, and when he was arrested on Oct. 2, I covered that too.

We lost touch after he was released from prison, and it wasn’t until some years later that his sister informed me that he had passed away. The news of his death made me remember our frequent correspondence, and so I checked my inbox for the one thing I wasn’t really prepared to see.

I uncovered an email that promised a great return on an investment that included his company’s logo. It certainly looked convincing, and the only reason that I hadn’t taken the bait is because I hadn’t even bothered to read it.

The experience taught me a valuable lesson: Never jump at an attractive offer that appears to have solid corporate backing without first exercising diligence.

People typically represent corporations and sometimes even the people you trust the most will attempt to con you.

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

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