A spate of robberies in which perpetrators enter the homes of older people by pretending to be gas equipment inspectors has occurred in the Tokyo area since late August.
The Metropolitan Police Department is investigating the matter and believes that there is a mastermind behind such cases, as most of the robbers were recruited via social media.
A senior police official said such cases are an off-shoot of so-called special fraud cases, in which older people are the main targets.
“A list of people who have been scammed (in special fraud cases) in the past may have been distributed,” the official said.
On the afternoon of Aug. 30, a man, claiming to be from the fire department and there to carry out an inspection, visited the home of a man in his 90s in Shinjuku Ward.
After inspecting the area under the kitchen sink for a while, the impostor suddenly punched the elderly man in his face. The robber bound the arms and legs of the older man with duct tape and stole some ¥30,000 in cash and a cash card.
An analysis of security camera images led to the Sept. 9 arrest of a man in his 20s who described himself as a gardener.
According to the MPD, more than 10 similar cases have been confirmed in Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures, including Kanagawa and Chiba, since late August.
Robbers posing as inspectors visited an elderly person’s home in Kawasaki on Aug. 27 and in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward on Sept. 24, stealing cash and other valuables.
Among the victims were those who have been scammed before and those who have received suspicious phone calls asking about their financial situations. The police believe that a special fraud group is involved in the cases.
Most robbers are believed to have been hired through social media posts, such as those offering high-paid illegal jobs called yami baito (black part-time work).
The MPD is stepping up its efforts to find the main culprit.
“Robbers usually never meet with the instructor. They just go to instructed destinations,” a senior official of the MPD’s first investigation department said.
According to Tokyo Gas Co., a paper document notifying the date and time of a visit is distributed to residents before employees conduct inspections.
Noting that real inspectors wear the Tokyo Gas group’s uniform, a company official called on people to ask inspectors to show them their ID cards if they seem suspicious.