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Cases of fraudulent receipts of subsidies designed to support small businesses and self-employed people hit hard by the pandemic are increasingly being found across Japan.

In some cases, corporate employees and students ineligible for the subsidies were invited through social media or word-of-mouth to submit applications for the aid using falsified documents.

“Many of these people are believed to have accepted such invitations without giving much thought,” an official of an institution related to the subsidy program said.

Since around July, the National Consumer Affairs Center has been receiving requests for consultations from people who said they were told that they can get the subsidies if they submit applications by pretending that they are self-employed. They said they were invited by friends, acquaintances or connections on social media, according to the center.

Apparently behind the moves are people who solicit applicants and give them specific instructions, and those who submit applications on their behalf, as they can profit through fees.

An employee in his 40s at the Okinawa Times daily was found to have fraudulently received the subsidies earlier this month. The man received advice from an acquaintance about the program and introduced around 15 people, including three co-workers, to the person.

The Okinawa Prefectural Police department is investigating the incident.

The Aichi Prefectural Police department last month arrested three people for suspected fraud over the subsidy program, including Ryoto Moriya, 26, and Masahiko Sugimoto, 41, who are both corporate executives and residents of Nagoya.

According to the police, the trio allegedly invited some 400 people through social media to have them apply for the subsidies, illegally gaining around ¥400 million in total.

The police suspect that Moriya played a role of giving advice and instructions to the recruited people while Sugimoto was in charge of preparing falsified documents necessary for the applications.

Police in Yamanashi Prefecture and Kyoto Prefecture have arrested university students and company workers over similar incidents.

The Small and Medium Enterprise Agency, which is responsible for the subsidy program, has shared information regarding fraudulent receipts of the aid with prefectural police departments nationwide.

The central government agency is also using its official Twitter account to warn people who posted messages believed to be invitations to illegally receive the subsidies that their acts constitute a crime.

“If people think they are simply invited, they may feel that they can avoid being held responsible and commit the acts,” Yasuyuki Deguchi, professor of Tokyo Future University, said. “We need to make people fully understand that this is a crime.”

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