There's no disputing that the coronavirus pandemic has brought with it a change in lifestyles for many. Certainly one example, notes Nikkan Gendai (Oct 17), is the move to teleworking and teleconferencing, and with it, more purchasing of goods via online.
Which in turn has led to an upsurge in fraud. The National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan reports changes in the types of complaints it's been receiving of late, particularly related to online shopping, smartphone use, online games and others of that nature.
In the April through June quarter of this year, for example, complaints to the organization were up by 1.5-fold from the year before. And broken down by age, the number of minors under age 20 who claimed to have been victimized was up 1.8-fold.
One woman brought a complaint that her daughter, a high school student, had been enticed to sign up for a healthy vegetable juice, offering a "free sample," and with the reassurance that the contract could be terminated "with one telephone call." But when calling to cancel, the mother was informed that "If it was a one-time purchase only, the charge would be 13,000 yen."
Going back to the original site, the mother was distraught that the spurious ad had been taken down, depriving her of proof of the fraudulent offer.
In August, the Consumer Affairs Agency issued a six-month business suspension order to an Utsunomiya-based health food marketer called Wonder. The company was found to have promoted a "green juice" beverage to first-time buyers for 980 yen, but from the second month onward, the charge had risen to 9,980 yen (plus tax). When a customer tried to terminate the arrangement, he was told: "Cancellations are invalid unless submitted 15 days prior to delivery of the next shipment."
This tricky method is designed to get around the legal restraints of the so-called cooling off period, which in Japan gives a purchaser the right to invalidate a transaction and return the items if made within eight days of receipt of the goods.
Wonder company's owner, a recidivist whose previous company had been shut down for one year by the agency, appeared to have just changed the name on his sign and continued as before.
When people make transactions via their smartphones, another problem known to surface is the difficulty in making out the fine print on purchasing conditions.
Fumiaki Tada, a journalist who covers fraud and shady business methods, tells Nikkan Gendai: "Many people don't read the conditions of contracts. Lots of them don't take the trouble to confirm the data with their eye and ears.
"Too many people have the impression that items sold online are 'cheaper,' but if something seems far less expensive than ordinary, they would be well advised to regard it as a trap."
Another seller via the LINE messaging application named Minerva was targeting naive people whose regular income had declined, offering part-time work that would bring them in an additional 100,000 yen with just 30 minutes of moonlighting per day. The company charged a 9,800 sign-up fee.
People who think they've been hoodwinked can call the Consumer Affairs Agency hotline, at 188 (a numerical mnemonic also pronounced "iyaa," and meaning something akin to dammit). The National Police Agency also has a special line for such calls, #9110.
A list of the most common types of frauds included:
- Troubles related to "trial" purchases of health foods and supplements
- Offers of discounted famous brand wristwatches that turned out to differ from the photo or be fakes
- Online sales of office chairs appealing to people working from home, which after order was sent in, disappeared from the web.
- Failure to deliver orders of face masks, thermometers, disinfectant alcohol and others, or substitution with inferior goods
- Approaches by people posing as apartment management employees selling spurious internet hookup services.