Crack down on scammers taking advantage of public coronavirus fears

Attempts to defraud people of their money through novel coronavirus vaccination scams have been reported in various parts of Japan. It is an unforgivable crime that takes advantage of people’s anxiety. Caution is needed to avoid becoming a victim.

Consumer affairs centers across the country have received many complaints about vaccination scams since the beginning of this year. Police have also received similar reports.

In one case, a person pretending to be a public health center employee told someone over the phone: “You can receive a priority vaccination. Please transfer ¥100,000 to my account and you will be refunded at a later date.” In another confirmed case, the scammer asked for a home address, saying, “We would like to visit you for the vaccination procedure.”

Official vaccinations are paid for in full with public funds. Residents can receive them free of charge. Local governments will send information and vaccination tickets by mail. Any phone call or email that asks for a fee or tries to retrieve personal information should be immediately suspected as a scam.

As the vaccination rollout gets into full swing, the number of such despicable crimes could further increase. If suspicious requests are received, do not worry alone, and report the issue to the police and other authorities.

An extremely small amount of vaccine has been allocated for inoculating elderly people, which will begin in April. As a result, there has been confusion in some municipalities and their vaccination schedules have been delayed.

Ambiguous information leads to public anxiety and gives fraud perpetrators an opening to exploit. The central and local governments must strive to provide accurate and detailed information on the timing and scale of vaccinations.

There have been other crimes capitalizing on the coronavirus. Among the special fraud cases confirmed by police across the country last year, 55 were related to the coronavirus, resulting in losses totaling ¥100 million.

A woman in her 70s living in Yamanashi Prefecture was scammed out of ¥15 million after receiving a phone call from a person claiming to be her son, who said: “My PCR [polymerase chain reaction] test was positive. Help me.” Some people have had their cash cards taken from scammers who fraudulently offered to open new accounts for them to receive benefits.

Many of those targeted were elderly people. Due to the coronavirus crisis, they may be spending more time at home and have more opportunities to answer home phone calls. Even if the criminals who go to victims’ homes to pick up cash or cash cards are wearing masks that conceal their faces, elderly people would not think the situation is strange under the current circumstances.

The police need to put more effort into cracking down on these scams to prevent them from spreading.

To avoid becoming a victim, it is also important to take measures to protect yourself, such as using an answering machine or automatic recording functions. Family members who live apart from their elderly parents should be wary of suspicious phone calls or visits from strangers.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on March 16, 2021.