Young people especially likely to be target of con that preys on sense of compassion and desire to help.

On the night of September 13, an 18-year-old woman had just finished up her shift at her part-time job in Fukuoka, the largest city on Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu. As she was walking for home, she was approached by a man who said he needed her help.

“I came from Kumamoto on the Shinkansen, but I forgot to take my bag and suitcase when I got off the train,” he explained. He also said that someone had stolen the money out of his wallet, and that he wanted to borrow 51,000 yen (US$485) so that he could get something to eat, a hotel room in which to spend the night, and a ticket home the next day.

▼ Kumamoto is roughly 15 kilometers (71 miles) south of Fukuoka.

Taking pity on him, the woman went to an ATM, withdrew the requested amount from her bank account, and handed it to the man. In return, he wrote down his name and phone number on a piece of paper to serve as an IOU. A few days later, though, the woman called the number to arrange repayment only for the phone to be answered by a completely different person who had no knowledge of the man or his debt to the woman.

Realizing she’d been scammed, the woman contacted the police, and it turns out she’s far from the only victim of this ploy in Fukuoka recently. The Fukuoka Prefectural Police’s Hakata and Chuo Precincts, both of which serve central Fukuoka City, say that since July they’ve received dozens of reports of people who’ve had similar encounters, with strangers approaching them posing as stranded travelers in need of monetary help who vanish after they’ve gotten their mark’s money.

▼ “Thanks! Now I can get home from Suckersville…er, I mean, Fukuoka.”

In another incident, in late June an 18-year-old male student was approached by a man at the downtown Hakata Bus Terminal who claimed to be stuck in Fukuoka without enough money to buy a ticket back to Oita Prefecture, about two hours east of Fukuoka by bus. The student gave the man 5,000 yen , and so he was surprised when the same man approached him with the same story in the same bus terminal in September.

While many con men prey upon the elderly, the police say that many of the victims of these false stranded-traveler scams are young people, primarily in their teens and 20s, who are being targeted because of their more trusting nature, officials say. In addition to taking advantage of their compassionate nature, the scam artists are also likely exploiting sympathies urban Japanese residents often feel for people traveling to the big city from the countryside, as both Kumamoto and Oita are far les developed than Fukuoka.

Thankfully, the two scammers from the above incidents have both been identified and arrested and admitted to the charges, with the would-be-double-dipping bus terminal scammer saying “I’d forgotten that [my target] was someone I’d already conned.”

While the scam artists don’t seem to be specifically targeting actual travelers, the nature of the setup stories for their swindles means they’re likely to be trolling for targets near rail and bus hubs, so being on your guard is advised. Remember that even if someone has indeed lost their luggage or ticket, helping them find food, shelter, and a way home is the job of train/bus operators, the police, and the city’s social service workers, not random passersby on the street.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun via Livedoor News via Jin
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso
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