"That guy took advantage of my kindness and cheated me out of a lot of money. I absolutely can't forgive him!"
So declares the pseudonymous "Haruka," a 30-year-old English instructor at a Tokyo high school, to Friday (Aug 10). She fell victim to what the magazine is calling a new type of "It's me, send money" scam, described as "international romance fraud," in which wily foreign fraudsters have been bilking Japanese females out of large amounts of money.
Haruka describes what happened: "In April of this year, I was contacted in English by a man who went by the name of 'Aran Oden' (phonetic) to become his friend via a social network site. He said he was employed by the National Security Agency at a U.S. Air Force base in Turkey, where his job involved materials procurement. He was good at talking about all kinds of topics, and thinking it would help me polish my English skills, we began corresponding."
About two weeks transpired during which "Aran" and Haruka exchanged messages. Then he requested she contact him via Line, and he began sending her photos of his muscular physique in a state of undress, and Haruka, although initially on her guard, began feeling the stirrings of affection.
Then all of a sudden he wrote her, "Honey, I'm crazy about you."
"I'd studied in the U.S. and knew how open Americans tend to be, so I went along," she relates. "More than that, he told me his parents had died when he was just 10 years old and he had been raised by an uncle, and I felt sympathetic toward him..."
About one month into their online relationship, "Aran" began his pitch. "The uncle who raised me just passed away," he wrote her. "I inherited his assets but I am not able to transfer the money from the account in the States to the one here, because I can't use the military server. Can you handle the transaction for me?"
Following Aran's instructions, Haruka went online to check his account's balance and found it contained $4.75 million -- roughly 500 million Japanese yen.
A bank "employee" going by the name of Cathy told Haruka that in order to transfer money from Aran's account, a service charge equivalent to 1% of the total amount had to be paid. "If the funds aren't received within one month, the entire balance will be confiscated by the U.S. government," Cathy warned her.
"I'm really sorry, but can you advance the funds?" Aran pleaded. "I'll definitely pay you back."
Haruka reluctantly went along with his request, making four separate transfers for a total of 5 million yen -- equivalent to the 1% of the Aran's "inheritance."
"I finally realized I'd been scammed several days after the last transmission, on June 13, when a man who claimed to be Aran's boss sent me a message informing me that Aran been shot and killed by a Turkish terrorist," she relates bitterly. "At that point I finally realized the account, and bank employee 'Cathy' were completely made up. It was a huge mistake for me to have swallowed his sob story."
"This type of scam can be characterized by the details that go into their making," Terue Shinkawa, a family counselor who is affiliated with the Kokusai Romansu Sagi Bokumetsu Kyokai (Association for eliminating international romance fraud). She is also author of an e-book warning of the dangers of online romances.
"Like Haruka's case, it's common for the online 'relationship' to last for a month or so. The names of real banks or people are used to draw in the victim," she says. "The number of cases have been increasing, as perpetrators are able to open multiple SNS accounts.
"So far, through questionnaire surveys, we've been able to confirm at least 140 Japanese have been swindled, with losses ranging from 300,000 yen to a maximum of 15 million yen," Shinkawa adds.
The association's website (http://www.romancescams.jp) provides links to related resources in other countries and provides a link to a Facebook page in which photos of the accused perpetrators, supplied by their victims, have been posted. Many are shown clad in U.S. military uniforms.
Attorney Yoji Ochiai tells the magazine that Japanese police are reluctant to get involved in pursuing foreigners outside the country. "They obtain data about the crooks from Interpol, but can't use it as evidence. And there are numerous other factors that make it difficult to file criminal charges," he explains.© Japan Today