For many years now, Japan has been a hotbed of cons targeting the growing elderly population. The most notorious swindle is the ore ore sagi where the criminal calls the victim on the phone pretending to be a son or other family member and requesting large sums of money to be transferred to their account for an “emergency.”

However, as with any con, it works on diminishing returns, as the public gradually becomes more and more aware of it – just ask the Prince of Nigeria, wherever he is these days. So in order to stay ahead of the curve, these fraudsters need to adapt with new tactics such as those found in a complex theft that took place of the course of this autumn.

At about 4 p.m. on 19 September, the doorbell of an 85-year-old woman in Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture rang. Standing at the entrance was a man claiming to be a police officer who was canvassing the neighborhood and warning residences of an ore ore sagi going around. He gave the woman a card with a phone number to call in the event she receive a suspicious phone call, and left.

The very next day, the same woman’s phone rang. On the other end was a young man claiming to be a relative who had gotten his mistress pregnant and needed money to deal with the situation. Smelling a shakedown, the woman called the number she had been given the day before and spoke with a “fraud consultant.”

The consultant asked her to play along with the scam so that the police could track and catch the people behind it. She agreed and sent 2.5 million yen (US$23,000) to an account in Tokyo expecting it to be used as bait then returned.

However, rather than news of an arrest, the “officer” from the consultation called back later on and told her they would need more money to catch these slippery bandits. This happened twice between then and 3 October, resulting in a further 2 million yen ($18,000) in cash and two bank cards being sent to the con artists under what she thought was the supervision of the police.

They remained in contact and the “officer” withdrew a total of about 28 million yen ($258,000) from her bank accounts using the cards she sent. However, on 30 November the line was suddenly disconnected. It was then that the crushing reality came down on her and she went to the real police to file a report, with losses totaling 32.5 million yen ($299,000).

Readers of the news online were filled with amazement and disgust over this bold cheating of an elderly woman out of her money.

“They certainly seem clever, so isn’t there a better way for them to make money?”
“I guess they just have a criminal mind, and aren’t suited for regular living.”
“That lady was sitting on an awful lot of money.”
“The sting was a sting.”
“If a cop asked me to give them money I’d just laugh.”
“They’re getting more cunning.”
“It’s a good thing I don’t have any money. I don’t have to worry about this kind of thing.”
“It’s very suspicious that the call would come a day after the card, but I guess they couldn’t wait too long in case the woman would lose the number.”

By taking their con to that next level, the perpetrators are entering a whole new level of risk as well, adding impersonating a police officer and interfering with police business to an already hefty grand larceny charge.

For the time being, however, this person or people are still at large, so police–the real police this time–are urging caution.

Part of staying vigilant is looking for the warning signs such as in this instance where the fake police number began with “050,” a prefix used for phones outside the traditional network such as Internet-based voice communication. Also, unless they’re played by Danny Glover and Mel Gibson, the police will never ask you to use your own money in their sting operations.

It’s also important to note that while seniors are primary targets, no one is safe from the threat of scams. As one comment wisely put it: “Those who think they can never be cheated are the easiest ones to cheat.”

Source: Asahi Shimbun, Kinisoku
Top image: Pakutaso
Inset images: Pakutaso 1, 2, 3, 4
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