Fraud proliferates and fraudsters profit – 37.8 billion yen’s worth in 2016, with no end in sight to an ongoing surge, according to the National Police Agency. Why, with all the coverage they have garnered, and all the warnings issued, do people fall such easy prey to telephone and email scams requesting, demanding or pleading for money on the most dubious pretexts? Shukan Bunshun (May 18) offers a “report from the front lines.”
The fact that the targets are mostly elderly is a big part of the explanation. Dementia can be a factor, as can confusion caused by unfamiliarity with the latest technology. Loneliness, too, comes into play. Fraud artists, like hunters, know their quarry. A lonely person feeling left behind by the times needs a friend.
Teruyo Okabe (not her real name) is 82 and lives in Chiba. Her husband suffers from dementia and lives at a care facility. Teruyo shares a house with her son and daughter-in-law, but the relationship is rocky, the entrances are separate and there’s not much contact. One day, as Shukan Bunshun tells the story, she was surprised by a cryptic, unsigned email: “Why did you stand me up? I waited for you all day yesterday!” Yesterday? Had she arranged to meet someone yesterday? She had no recollection of anything of the sort. She let it pass, but the mail kept coming: “Tell me why you didn’t meet me!” Finally she broke her bewildered silence: “You’re mistaking me for someone else.”
“Thank you for setting me straight!” The other party was immensely grateful. “You really saved me! It’s so kind of you!” He added, “Couldn’t we be friends?”
They became friends – mail friends. They wrote to each other every day, sometimes several times a day. Teruyo’s friend was a young man, a student working his way through college, too poor to pay for these mail exchanges. Would Teruyo mind picking up the tabs? No, of course not, she said. What tabs? the reader will ask. Fictitious ones, but here is where an older person’s uncertain command of the new media comes in.
She paid under his instructions, using her credit card. Other young people joined the party. They confided in her, asked her advice, made her feel part of the world again. One said, “I wish you were my girlfriend.” Meanwhile Teruyo’s bank balance shrank and shrank – by an estimated 5.4 million yen in four years. Her son only became aware of this when the bank contacted him to say the account could no longer cover the automatic payments to his father’s care facility. “Wake up!” he exploded at his mother.
But this she is unwilling to do. “I don’t want to think that I was hoodwinked,” she says. “Even now I believe that I helped young people who needed help.”
Con artists like these “are pros -- experts at psychological manipulation,” says lawyer Sachiko Ishiwatari. "They know how to build close relationships with the people they target. They get themselves more trusted than family members, lawyers or personnel at consumer centers” – probably because they seem to care more.© Japan Today