Recently, the Ministry of Justice web site posted a warning against abuses of the so-called "tokusoku tetsuzuki" (demand procedures) by which the nation's small-claims courts are being harnessed to defraud people by invoicing them for nonexistent services.
Many of these services were so-called "one-click" frauds, where a person who merely strays onto a site is billed as if he had ordered goods offered by the site -- often pornography.
Small claims courts are generally set up for handling disputes of less than 600,000 yen, which, while still less than the millions of yen harvested by big-time professional swindlers, nevertheless is just as aggravating if not more so, as they carry the authority of the law.
Weekly Playboy (Feb 29) reports that the justice ministry acted following a growing number of claims by victims to the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan. It warns readers that if they receive a notification of demand from a small-claims court, in an envelope bearing the stamp "tokubetsu sotatsu" (special service of process), they ignore it at their peril. Why? Because from the date of receipt they have two weeks to respond with an "igi moshitate" (petition of objection) or the demand from the court is treated as valid and the recipient can be legally ordered to pay the full amount.
"Last year, an Osaka man came for a consultation when he received one such claim via the court, demanding he pay 70,000 yen," says Tetsuya Nakao of the Meitoku Legal Office. "He became really agitated when we advised him that he could not simply disregard the claim."
According to Nakao, an order to make payment from a small claims court carries the same force as a decision in a regular court. "If you don't pay, an equivalent amount of your property can be forcibly confiscated," he added.
But how is it, Playboy's reporter asks, that the court will go to work on behalf of these, these...infernal crooks!?
"The small-claims courts only examine the affidavits," explains Nakao. "They don't make any effort to determine if they are actually valid or not. It's all done through documentation, so even if you never set foot in the court, if the claimant files the necessary documents, you can be ordered to make payment.
"Naturally this is an act of criminal fraud, but the basic concept is that the person involved must take action to protect himself. If he should actually transfer money to the crooks' account they will quickly shift the funds elsewhere, so even if the police are brought in, the chances of recovering the money are unlikely," Nakao pointed out.
Should such a notification from the small claims court arrive in your mailbox, time is of the essence, as you have only two weeks to respond with your objection. The instructions for writing one are enclosed in the same envelope as the notification; submission can be made via an attorney, legal office, the small-claims court or a branch of the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan.
Once the objection has been filed, the claim is automatically voided, which means those who submitted the charges have no choice but to pursue their monetary claims through the regular courts -- where they will be required to provide evidence and appear in person in the court, where they risk exposure. Their failure to make an appearance at two consecutive sessions will nullify their claim.
Nakao warns that some crooks have even gone as far as to mail out claims in forged court envelopes designed to keep the victim confused.
"In some cases, the telephone number for the 'court' printed on the envelope is actually that of the swindlers," he says. "So to be safe you should disregard it and use the telephone book or other resource to confirm it's the real number.
"Above all, you need to respond to any such claim in a calm and cautious manner."© Japan Today