Japan Today



Why do 'ore-ore' phone scams continue despite so many warnings?


“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

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It's continuing to happen because the old folks aren't listening.

5 ( +9 / -4 )

Pretty much what Yubaru said... if it keeps working obviously people aren't listening.

We, fortunately and unfortunately, live in a relatively safe country where an entire generation of our elders just didn't grow up being skeptical or having a need to discern about scams. Our current generation on the other hand has rampant e-scams that have caused us to lose our blind trust in people.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Thanks to these crooks, withdrawing money from a Japanese bank has become akin to going through security at an American airport after 9-11. I went to pay for a new water heater and even though I went to a branch of the same bank that I was making the transfer to, I had to jump through multiple hoops and endure a 30-minute wait --- plus pay a ridiculously high transfer charge since I couldn't do it directly via ATM. Grrrrrrr.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Being ripped off and exploited by compatriots is just a way of life for most, especially by those who sound like authority figures. Yet the ideology is always to trust others for they know what is best for us.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Honestly, they have themselves to blame. The idea of "warning lamps that light up when the incoming call is from an unfamiliar number " is called CALLER ID!!! It's been around for decades!

At least we get one good thing out of it. Super ridiculous posters of shadowy men preying on sweet, confused grannies at the ATM.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

"... so call before midnight tonight. Local classes forming now!"

1 ( +1 / -0 )

They never bother me, and I suspect they never will. If they did, I'd certainly never fall for it. I'd ask them to slow down and explain it in English and, as with telemarketing services, they would quickly hang up. There are already enough scams you HAVE to pay for -- like key money, paying a bi-annual fee to keep paying rent on your apartment, insurance of all forms, pension, health care, car inspection, etc.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

This problem will continue as long as its easier to gain money like this than with honest work and the risk of getting caught is not too high.

It has been demonstrated that with age comes an inability to discern properly when to trust someone and that is why old people are most common victims, you only need a plausible situation where some money have to be used urgently to avoid some big trouble and common sense will go out of the window. For many victims thinking clearly and slowly afterwards is enough to see the scam. Educating the victims can only go so far for the same reason, if they were calm enough to remember to read the signs in the ATM they would be calm enough to realize the scam by themselves. They need support from friends and family for them to be calm, so there is strong need for people to be available to them 24/7 so it will feel natural just to reach and ask "I got this phone call, should I transfer the money?"

4 ( +4 / -0 )

There are already enough scams you HAVE to pay for -- like ... paying a bi-annual fee to keep paying rent on your apartment

You actually pay that??? Back on topic, I believe it will continue to get worse. It's a shame.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

It's aging and medical, especially after the age of 75 the brain makes serious transformations which can result in vulnerability in scams like this. There is research to verify this. Here is a quote from a credible source (among many):

The new brain research, published Dec. 3 [2012] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds older people, more than younger adults, may fail to interpret an untrustworthy face as potentially dishonest. The study, led by Shelley Taylor, a professor of psychology at UCLA, was funded by the National Institute on Aging.

We, fortunately and unfortunately, live in a relatively safe country where an entire generation of our elders just didn't grow up being skeptical or having a need to discern about scams. Our current generation on the other hand has rampant e-scams that have caused us to lose our blind trust in people.

Response to the above quote as it's not that simple:

"Many people think this problem exists because the post-war generation is more trusting than other generations,'' says Taylor. "They may very well be more trusting, but what we've discovered is this is based on neurological changes. The Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials are all going to face this as they age."

Even though as younger people we may be seasoned to know how to avoid email scams as such, once you get to that age you will be more vulnerable to scams - any type. Anyone who has older parents who go through any degree of cognitive decline - no matter how mentally sharp they were in their younger years - will understand that you need to watch out so they are not taken advantage of. This is why I think people who scam seniors deserve to be in a special place in hell.

It really is unfair to blame these senior victims saying "serves them right for being naive." You could say that about some businessman falling for a Nigerian email scam. But for a senior with a deteriorating brain, it's a different situation and it does deserve special attention.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

This ore-ore scam is a very interesting phenomena, that is paralleled I believe by the 419 scams that plague anglophones: "Hello Dear, you have won the lotteries, receives some inheritance, a proportion of a massive slosh fund, if you just small amount up front." Both the ore-ore scam and the 419 scam tap into a national self-deception, different in each case. Anglophones have a tendency to believe that we are going to get lucky. The Japanese it appears, have a tendency to believe that their kin are going to get themselves into trouble, and that they are destined to come to the rescue. Each depends upon a pipe-dream of self-aggrandizement, but in a different domain (Sedikides, Gaertner, Toguchi, 2003) and the Japanese version is tinged with groupism and self-denegration: Not "I'm gonna make it big!" but "our family is accident prone but we really care."

Another reason for the success of the scam may be in the way in which the voice is deindividuated in Japan. That is to say Japanese do not identify with their own voices (their self speech), nor identify others by theirs. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in way in which few Japanese do not bat an eyelid at person-less voices in form of all the public announcements, loop tapes and speaking machines. Again, in the service industry, service providers are preferred if they deindividuated their voice completely, not only in a higher octave but in a squawk reminiscent of a high pitched Daffy Duck. Individuality is expressed visually (such as in architecture where there is an utter lack of Japanese harmony) whereas voices are generic. Japanese old persons may not be able to pick out their grandson's voice even if coming from the next room, let alone across low quality telephone lines.

A related reason for the prevalence of this crime lies in the fact that it has hardly a visual aspect. The Japanese are ego-involved with their faces (c.f. Watsuji), and have an autoscopic self-conscience that prevents them from thieving, mugging, vandalism, and all flagrante delicto (Latin of "in blazing offence," "genkouhan" in Japanese) crimes which can be seen. But when a crime is purely linguistic (cartels, politics and money, corporate governance, ore-ore scams) then the criminal can appears to himself autoscopically, as exactly the same as someone being honest. An ore-ore scammer sees himself as, identical to, someone making a sales call.

The solution is as the article suggests, technological: video phones.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

What happens to these criminals when they are caught?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Money doesn't always come with intelligence. Again stupid is as stupid does.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

What I don't understand is why the police and banks don't just shut these guys down. As one poster wrote above, security for us regular banking types has become ridiculous. My online banking is constantly opening with warnings, and even simple transactions require official ID and a registered stamp (annoying). I haven't opened an account for a while, but I assume some ID check and confirmation is done on all individuals opening an account. If that step is being performed, then why not just link the account back to the individual who opened it?

Even if the criminals are using hacked accounts as recipient accounts and transferring money electronically, there is ALWAYS a trail in Japan. Can anybody explain why these trails aren't being followed back to the criminals? I certainly can't be the first person in Japan to have thought of this. lol

3 ( +3 / -0 )

"What I don't understand is why the police and banks don't just shut these guys down." The banks are trying. And are getting better. There was one story a while back in JT where a 90-year-old guy was convinced he had to send money to his "son" convinced he was really in trouble. The good people at the bank (and they were really being good and trying to do right) knew what was going on and was trying to convince this poor old guy it was a scam. The old guy would not listen. He could not be reasoned with once he was on a mission to "save" his "son". I forget the ending to this story. But it did make the news and I hope the scammers didn't get the money. I assume even the cops were called by the bank. But if someone like that (with a deteriorated brain at such an age) is convinced to do this where is only so much you can do. If he really did have a son or children then they need to watch out for him as if he is their child.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I can't speak for every Japanese family, but Im pretty sure in mine if my MIL got a call from someone claiming to be my husband or one of his siblings along these lines she would rip him or her a new one telling them what morons they are and saying "well, you're on your own, this is a good lesson for you, figure it out!" and then she would call me to complain about what idiots her children are and how relieved she is that at least one of them is married to a gaijin. She's funny that way!

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Why do 'ore-ore' phone scams continue despite so many warnings?

Huh? It's a turkey shoot for those innovative scammers. With a rapidly aging population, every village, big city and surrounding suburbs are ripe for a quick money grab.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Same reason Abe's ratings have improved, and why he was elected in the first place.

people here are gullible

never take time to think through what they say nor what they do
0 ( +0 / -0 )

I had no interest to join this discussion until today.

Shock Horror. A long time student / acquaintance of mine told me privately she had been scammed 10 days ago.

It wasn't the typical "ore ore" but a more sophisticated set up involving her 103 year old father. He is in hospital so wasn't involved directly. But the calls and letters came from Tokyo to here (regional) and get this - she, an alert woman who is known to be a bit of a tightwad coughed up ¥8,000,000. You read that right - ¥8million. All I could do was to say I'm so sorry to hear that and that fraudsters are scum - but inside I was thinking like wtf. Over the years how many times had we talked about this in lessons????? It's just preposterous she could be hit - esp if you knew her.

My only thoughts after this are peoples vulnerability knows no limits and / or scammers are incredibly more skillful than we can even imagine.

I'm still reeling.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Upon second thoughts, while the Japanese do not identify with their self narrative, and can not define for instance their character traits (Bond &Cheung, 1983), they do pay greater attention to tone of voice (Ishii, Reyes, & Kitayama, 2003), and when they have theatrical reproductions of anime such as Anpanman or Masked Riders the audience insists upon the use of a boom box and miming characters rather than accepting a situation where the person inside the character suit providing the voice via a microphone.This is because there is greater identity, and character in the tenor and cadence of the characters voice. Thus, it is not that Japanese old people can not recognise their grandchildren so much as they are ashamed to say that they can not recognise their grandchild since it would be insulting to say to ones grandchild, "Your voice sounds strange. Is that really you?"

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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