Phone Fraud in Japan: A Deceptive Crime with Various Facets

Phone Fraud in Japan image

Phone fraud, also known as "特殊詐欺" (tokushu sagi) in Japan, is a type of crime where perpetrators deceive unsuspecting victims through phone calls or other means of communication without meeting them face-to-face, gaining their trust, and then tricking them into making transfers or providing cash and other valuables to designated bank accounts.

While "オレオレ詐欺" (ore ore sagi), or "It's me" fraud, is the most well-known, there are several other variations of phone fraud, including deposit fraud, cash card fraud, fictitious billing fraud, refund fraud, and support fraud.

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The Name of Phone Fraud

The term "振り込め詐欺" (furikome sagi), meaning "money transfer fraud," was coined by the Japanese National Police Agency in 2004.

Before that, this type of fraud was commonly referred to as "オレオレ詐欺" (ore ore sagi), which literally translates to "It's me" fraud.

However, as the methods used by fraudsters became more diverse, the name no longer accurately reflected the nature of the crime.

In December 2004, the National Police Agency unified the names of four types of fraud,

  1. "なりすまし詐欺" (narisumashi sagi)
  2. Fictitious billing fraud
  3. Loan guarantee fraud
  4. Refund fraud

under the umbrella term "振り込め詐欺" (furikome sagi).

This decision aimed to create a consistent name that would alert individuals to the possibility of being deceived at any stage of the fraud, rather than encouraging them to willingly make transfers.

In 2013, due to a decrease in cases involving direct money transfers, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department launched a competition to find a new name for this type of fraud.

The winning entry was "母さん助けて詐欺" (kaasan tasukete sagi), which translates to "Help me, Mom fraud."

However, this name was criticized for not accurately reflecting the reality of the victims, as some cases involved fathers.

As a result, different prefectural police departments in Japan adopted alternative names such as "ニセ電話詐欺" (nise denwa sagi) or "親心利用詐欺" (oyagokoro riyō sagi), emphasizing the use of fraudulent phone calls or exploiting the feelings of parents.

Despite the variations in naming, the term "特殊詐欺" (tokushu sagi), or phone fraud, is commonly used by law enforcement agencies.

According to the "Chiezo Mini" section of the Kotobank website, the number of reported phone fraud cases in 2014 was 13,392.

Origins of Phone Fraud

Phone fraud, also known as "オレオレ詐欺" (ore ore sagi) or "振り込め詐欺" (furikome sagi), had already existed before these specific terms emerged.

As early as 1999, cases involving fraudulent phone calls or telegrams were reported.

However, it was not until 2003 that the term "オレオレ詐欺" (ore ore sagi) gained popularity.

The Tottori Prefectural Police, who arrested a perpetrator in February 2003, first used this term to describe the fraudster's impersonation of a family member over the phone.

Additionally, a more elaborate version of the fraud, involving the use of fictitious bank accounts, emerged in a Tokyo-based loan shark group in mid-February 2003.

Evolution of Phone Fraud

Initially, phone fraud was primarily carried out by individual perpetrators posing as a single person, such as a son or a grandchild.

However, as the crime evolved, multiple individuals started conspiring together, with one person pretending to be the "debtor" and another acting as the "creditor."

They would use phone calls to deceive and threaten victims, claiming that immediate repayment was necessary to avoid severe consequences.

Over time, the fraud expanded to include family members commuting to work or school, as well as relatives, who were portrayed as perpetrators or debtors in various scenarios, such as traffic accidents, assaults, embezzlement, or financial difficulties.

In some cases, the fraudsters would create a script that provided victims with little time for thought and call them repeatedly to maintain pressure.

The fraudsters would assign different roles to victims, their family members, station attendants, police officers, or lawyers, creating a theatrical performance involving multiple perpetrators and even sound effects like sirens.

This earned the fraud the nickname "劇団型犯罪" (gekidan-gata hanzai), or "theater-style crime."

Recently, a new trend has emerged, utilizing a tactic known as the "騙されたフリ作戦" (damasareta furi sakusen), or "pretending to be deceived."

This variation follows the same initial steps as traditional phone fraud, with the first perpetrator pretending to be a family member.

However, a second perpetrator posing as a police officer subsequently contacts the victim, claiming that someone attempted to defraud them.

The victim is instructed to hand over cash to the first perpetrator, who then joins forces with the second perpetrator to steal the money and escape.

This tactic capitalizes on the victim's belief that they are assisting law enforcement, resulting in a more elaborate form of theater-style crime.

Methods of Phone Fraud

Phone fraud in Japan encompasses various techniques, which can be classified into ten major categories:

Impersonation Fraud

In this type of fraud, the perpetrator pretends to be a family member, superior, police officer, or lawyer over the phone.

They claim that the victim's family member has been involved in an accident, committed a crime, or is in financial trouble, manipulating the victim into providing immediate cash or making a transfer.

Deposit Fraud

Perpetrators impersonate police officers, bank association employees, or other authorities and inform victims that their bank accounts have been misused for criminal activities.

They then request the victims to exchange their cash or provide their cash cards under the pretense of safeguarding their funds.

Fictitious Billing Fraud

Fraudsters pose as employees of paid service providers, the Ministry of Justice, or courts, falsely claiming that the victims owe unpaid fees.

They send notifications via email, letters, or postcards, coercing victims to make payments or transfers to settle fictitious debts.

Loan Guarantee Fraud

Perpetrators deceive victims by pretending to be government officials or bank employees, promising loans or loan guarantees.

They demand upfront payment of a "guarantee fee" or other charges before providing the loan, only to disappear after receiving the money.

Refund Fraud

Impersonating employees from local government offices or pension offices, fraudsters contact victims to inform them that they are eligible for a refund, such as overpaid medical expenses, taxes, or insurance premiums.

They deceive victims into operating ATMs to transfer funds to the fraudsters' accounts.

Financial Product Scams

Providing false information about non-existent or worthless financial products like unlisted stocks or securities to encourage victims to make purchases.

Gambling Scams

Offering "foolproof" strategies for winning at pachinko, public gambling, or lottery games and charging victims for this information.

Dating Scams

Placing advertisements in magazines or sending mass emails offering matchmaking services and deceiving individuals into paying registration fees or deposits.

Other Special Frauds

Fraud types that do not fall under the above categories, including cash card theft, which is treated separately from other frauds.

Cash Card Fraud Theft

This form of fraud involves criminals masquerading as police officers, bank association representatives, and employees of major department stores, appliance retailers, or large supermarkets.

They deceive victims by claiming that their cash cards or credit cards are being misused.

Using this ruse, the scammers trick victims into swapping their cards, leading to theft and monetary loss.

This deception is classified as theft and distinguished from other fraud types.

These various methods have evolved over time, with fraudsters continuously adapting their tactics to exploit vulnerabilities in victims' trust and knowledge.

The Impact and Countermeasures

Phone fraud has had a significant impact on society, with victims experiencing financial losses, emotional distress, and a loss of trust in others.

Law enforcement agencies and financial institutions in Japan have implemented various countermeasures to combat this crime.

These measures include public awareness campaigns, educational programs, enhanced surveillance, and cooperation with telecommunications companies to identify and block fraudulent calls.

It is crucial for individuals to remain vigilant and aware of the evolving tactics used by fraudsters.

The best defense against phone fraud is to never disclose personal information or make financial transactions based solely on unsolicited phone calls.

If individuals suspect they have been targeted by phone fraud, they should contact their local police department immediately and provide any relevant information.

Phone fraud continues to be a pressing issue in Japan, requiring ongoing efforts from law enforcement agencies, financial institutions, and the public to combat this deceptive crime.

By raising awareness, educating the public, and implementing effective countermeasures, it is possible to protect individuals from falling victim to phone fraud and ensure a safer society for all.

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