National / Crime & Legal

Damages from 'it's me' and other petty fraud scams in Japan down for fourth straight year

JIJI, Kyodo

The amount of money stolen in “it’s me” scams and other special cases of fraud fell 9.6 percent in 2018 from the previous year to ¥35.68 billion, down for the fourth straight year, National Police Agency data showed Thursday.

The so-called ore-ore (it’s me, it’s me) scam refers to the swindling of mostly elderly people by perpetrators who impersonate their children or their grandchildren over the phone and ask for urgent money transfers.

The number of special fraud cases, which also include charging people for visiting websites they never actually used, detected by police decreased 9.4 percent to 16,493 cases, the first decline in eight years, according to the data compiled by the agency.

“We’re seeing the results of police efforts to promote damage prevention measures via cooperation with financial institutions and crackdowns on fraud groups so as to eliminate them,” an NPA official said.

At the same time, the official noted, “The amount of money stolen and the number of detected cases are both still at high levels, suggesting that the situation remains serious.”

By fraud type, police reported 9,134 cases of ore-ore fraud, up 7.5 percent. Damages from this type of fraud amounted to ¥18.28 billion, down 12.1 percent.

Billing fraud cases came to 4,852, down 15.7 percent, causing ¥13.74 billion in losses, up 7.7 percent.

The crimes are mostly committed by groups that form and disband quickly, with each member carrying out specific tasks such as making the calls and picking up the cash.

Determining that such cases are still prevalent, the NPA has instructed police nationwide to continue to clamp down on them and gather information on various groups believed to be involved in the scams, including crime syndicates and juveniles.

The report showed the cases were heavily concentrated in metropolitan areas, with those in Tokyo, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures making up nearly half of the total at 7,944. The police suspect this is because the region has many elderly residents as well as people willing to work for crime groups.

The percentage of special fraud victims who were age 65 or older stood at 78.0 percent, underscoring the need to focus on senior citizens in taking preventive measures.

As for the ore-ore fraud, the percentage of elderly victims stood even higher at 96.9 percent, the report showed.

A separate police survey focusing on the ore-ore fraud showed more than 70 percent of victims said they did not tell others about the calls or emails they received before they noticed they had been defrauded of money.

More than a quarter of the victims were also found to have given the money to crime groups despite being told by financial institutions to halt the suspicious transfer.

The survey conducted between August and November last year interviewed a total of 1,099 people — 354 victims and 745 others who avoided being scammed as a result of their own actions or due to warnings by family and financial institutions.