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One could almost be forgiven for thinking that con artists are a dime a dozen in Japan. They’ve been terrorizing elderly folk over the telephone in recent years with their ore-ore sagi (“It’s me” scams) and sending threatening emails that warn recipients their computer has been hacked and compromising information will be published online unless that unfortunate individual pays a ransom in the form of a cryptocurrency.

Such activity is a form of phishing in which fraudsters attempt to obtain confidential information such as bank and credit card details by posing as a trustworthy individual or institution when they initiate contact.

According to reports in the Nikkei Shimbun and other news outlets in recent weeks, a variation of this tactic has emerged. It’s basically phishing in reverse, where the person being scammed initiates the contact with a fraudster instead of the other way around.

Google Maps, it seems, is key to the success of such an approach. Fraudsters use a function on Google Maps that allows them to edit important business details of institutions listed on the web-mapping service such as their telephone number and email address.

Cybersecurity experts say virtually anyone can suggest changes to information on Google Maps.

Fraudsters typically target a financial institution, adjust the contact information and hope someone takes the bait.

Should a person call one of these institutions by accessing it through Google Maps, the inquiry will be answered by a fraudster who will then press the caller to divulge their bank details or credit card information before subsequently attempting to take as much money as possible.

In some cases, people who have been deceived into calling the fake number have even been asked to send their ATM card to the “bank” by post.

Naturally, victims of such a scam don’t realize they’ve been had until the next time they check their bank balance. It’s a simple scam, but it’s easy to fall for.

The first reports of such reverse phishing incidents emerged in India last fall, but domestic media organizations and the authorities are now sounding the alarm.

Unfortunately, Google didn’t respond to my request for a comment but they did reply to an Indian newspaper which was one of the first to report it.

“Overall, allowing users to suggest edits provides comprehensive and up-to-date info, but we recognize there may be occasional inaccuracies or bad edits suggested by them,” a spokesperson from Google was reported as saying. “When this happens, we do our best to address the issue as quickly as possible. The Google Safety Center outlines tips to help consumers stay safe online.”

In other words, you’re on your own. To be honest, the best advice is simply don’t trust Google Maps.

Be sure to check the contact information you have for a financial institution is the same online and on Google Maps. If the number provided by Google Maps for a bank branch is a mobile phone number … you should probably treat that listing with suspicion.

Google Maps has undoubtedly become an essential tool in navigating cities such as Tokyo by mobile phone and yet it seems to have its own shortcomings.

Perhaps it’s time to start lugging those weighty street atlases around Tokyo again?

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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