In Japanese criminal slang, an easy mark is described as kamo-negi, an abbreviation for a phrase that means a duck with an onion in its mouth.
As reported by Asahi Geino (April 15), con artists have been exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to pluck these birds at every opportunity.
"They call up elderly people on the phone and offer masks, sanitizer fluid, coronavirus testing and other stuff," an underworld source explains. "Seniors terrified of catching the virus are desperately clutching at straws and make easy targets."
"Around the end of 2020, the crooks would telephone people, appealing to their better nature, saying, 'Tourism has drastically dropped off due to the pandemic and local people are really hurting. The Tsukiji seafood market has stopped ordering their crabs. Can't you help them out?' So they would agree to spring for 20,000 yen. But these customers would only receive a box with two thin crab legs and some small fish."
Journalist Toshiyuki Inoue tells of another scam that's been increasing of late.
"They call people living on public housing tracts and posing as representatives of the public health office, claim they had removed coronavirus present in water vats on the building's roof. They request between 10,000 to 30,000 yen for the cleanup.
"Some of them also try to trick the residents into buying water filters that are claimed to remove the virus from tap water."
Up to the time of the article, the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan had reported 77,564 complaints related to coronavirus. Of these, 35 concerned vaccinations, but these are likely to increase from the end of 2020.
"Troubles on a nationwide scale began concurrent to the start of vaccination," warned a spokesperson for the center. "They offer to expedite vaccination, and claim that after paying 100,000 yen, vaccinated individuals will be eligible for a rebate. Aside from voice phones, there are also phishing sites that send emails to their smartphone.
"Above all, we want to reiterate that there are no charges for vaccinations."
In an aside, the writer hopes that seniors will build up their "immunity" not only to the virus, but also to telephone scams.
Of course, it's not only gullible seniors being targeted by criminals. Mrs M, a housewife in her 40s, responded to a recruitment ad for teleworkers who had extra time on their hands.
She received a mail that read, "There are some neat side jobs available. Would you like to try one? You can make as much as 900,000 yen per month. The only thing you need is a smartphone. It's something you can do between house chores."
The only "work" that was called for was to use an application that enabled the user to click on "like" when seeing videos posted on TikTok and other SNS.
"You register by selecting one of four stages -- gold, silver, bronze and platinum," the scammer explained to her. "Then you select one of four sets between 18 to 58 yen. By choosing platinum you can earn up to 5,800 yen per day, and by using multiple smartphones, you can earn up to 900,000 yen a month."
Charges for registration ranged from a low of 1,500 yen to a high of 300,000 yen. Mrs M registered for the gold course, by which she could earn 1,900 yen per day. She was asked to pay 50,000 yen up front.
"Within two weeks of my starting, I had accumulated points valued at 25,000 yen, which was half of my original investment. However, when converting the points to cash, a 400 yen service fee is charged, so I thought I'd keep working a little longer.
"Thinking back, I thought there was something suspicious about the recipient of my bank transfer, which was the name of a person instead of a company."
Mrs M's suspicions turned out to be spot on. In less than a month, the site had been removed from the web. Previously posted data showed that 9,000 people had signed up for the various courses.
Other scams have targeted hard-up university students and food service operators eligible for government subsidies.
"Even if you are contacted by the local government, they will never request you to give out personal data via telephone or email," warns a spokesperson at the National Consumer Affairs Center. "So you need to be on your guard."© Japan Today