“Hi, it’s me, listen, I’m in trouble, I need money, I was in an accident, I’m sick, I’m being shaken down by gangsters, I stole some money from my company and if I don’t pay it back soon… mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, help, send money, hurry, please, my account number is…”
We know, you’ve heard this before. You wouldn’t fall for it, would you? It’s the famous, notorious, ubiquitous "ore-ore sagi" (the “hi, it’s me” fraud). It’s been around for 10 years at least, and with police, banks, municipalities and various other concerned organizations issuing frequent warnings, not to mention relentless media coverage, everyone is wise to it by now and no one’s fooled any more – right?
By no means. Very far from it. On the contrary, the number of victims, and the amounts of money they are being bilked of, rise year by year by year, reaching, as of 2014, 37.9 billion yen swindled from 11,256 people nationwide – so far as is known. The actual figures are bound to be higher.
Why? Various explanations have emerged over the years. The Japanese are naturally trusting; senile dementia is spreading as society ages; and so on. Besides, as security expert Masayuki Umemoto tells Shukan Josei (Aug 11), the fraud artists are getting cleverer and cleverer. The traditional “ore-ore” approach, he says, is for beginners.
More sophisticated practitioners learn from yakuza gangsters – may in fact be yakuza gangsters. They learn from actors too, it seems, working together like a theater company and knowing their lines cold before setting to work. They play stock brokers, lawyers, police detectives. One man phones: he wants to purchase a company bond that (for some inconceivable reason) can only be purchased in your name. “Think it over, I’ll contact you again.” Hours or days later the phone rings again. This time it’s a “lawyer.” His voice is grim. “Allowing your name to be used in bond transactions is a criminal offense. Fortunately, however, all this can be cleared up upon payment of a small sum of money…” And you think to yourself, “All right, all right, if money is what it takes to get me out of this inexplicable mess, so be it!”
The danger has grown, Umemoto warns, since the national pension system was hacked in June, causing the leak of more than a million people’s personal data –into the hands, potentially, of operators like these.
So what do you do? Technologically enhanced phones, Umemoto says, can be helpful – devices that automatically record calls, or warning lamps that light up when the incoming call is from an unfamiliar number, signaling that maybe you’re better off not answering.
But it’s a cunning and acquisitive world out there, and just as criminality stimulates protective ingenuity, so does protective ingenuity stimulate criminality. In short, says Shukan Josei, be alert, suspicious and on our guard when the phone rings. And if you pick up the phone and hear, “Hi, it’s me, my voice is a bit strange, I’ve caught a cold” – reply, for example, “If you have a cold come home immediately!” Or if the caller says, “Dad? It’s me, I’ve been in an accident…” – try this: “An accident! Where? Where are you? Don’t move, I’m on my way!”
Chances are the caller will hang up and not bother you again.© Japan Today