On Sept 26, the Itami police station in Hyogo Prefecture announced it had arrested Tomoko Onotani, a 45-year-old unemployed woman, on multiple charges of fraud. Police allege that from earlier this year Onotani began telephoning bakeries and confectioners, claiming she had "found human hair" in cake and bread products she'd purchased.
In one case she received a cash refund of 1,085 yen from the shop. In another, she was compensated with a new cake.
Onotani has been having a busy year. Yukan Fuji (Oct 3) reports that upon investigation of her telephone records, police determined that between February and July she had made approximately 7,000 telephone calls to some 1,200 businesses in 30 prefectures around the nation. She was able to obtain the telephone numbers of the shops by dialing 104 and requesting information assistance, which she called a total of 4,650 times.
"Quite a few shops are willing to pay out small amounts of compensation to avoid having false rumors spread about them on the internet," says Shinichi Sekine, who advises businesses on how to handle "claimers." "It's essential for them to obtain knowhow on effective countermeasures."
Right from the get-go, Sekine advises, it's necessary to determine whether the person is making the call in earnest.
"If, in the course of the conversation, you sense inconsistencies in what they say, the first thing you should do is focus in on those inconsistencies. For example, you might repeat the same question several times, and if the claimer's answers don't seem to be consistent, you try to confirm by asking, 'What you just told me is different from what you said previously. Why is that?'
"Then don't just ask for their explanation, but be sure to request their name, address and telephone number. And it's important to ask them when, and in what shop, they made the purchase, and whether they still have the receipt from the store," Sekine continues. "In case they say they don't have the receipt, ask them what time of day they made the purchase. In the case of spurious claimers, when you say 'Even the approximate time is okay, so can you please try to remember when it was?' and they hang up on you, a majority of the time they won't bother you again."
While the aforementioned Onotani was content to receive small sums of compensation, Sekine says that many fraudulent claimers demand 20,000 yen, knowing they can get away with that figure. Why?
"Usually if a claim exceeds more than 30,000 yen, the staff worker who handles customer claims will have to get the go-ahead from his boss; but up to 20,000 yen or so they have the authority to proceed on their own. Actually, if monetary compensation is involved, staff should always discuss it with their supervisor. It's important that they deal with problems as an organization and don't just leave it to one individual employee."
As claims of finding foreign objects in food items are common, Sekine also suggests claimers be requested to mail in "half of the hair" as evidence. Such requests may discourage devious claimers from substituting a different hair.
It is supposed that some of the shops that Onotani called did have measures in place for staving off false claims -- which are best handled through a combination of polite language and dogged persistence.© Japan Today