Police Must Deal with Increasing Sophistication of Scammers

The damage from unconventional fraud such as wire transfer scams is on the rise again. How can such organized criminal activity, which has become increasingly sophisticated, be dealt with? The police must do their utmost to develop more advanced investigative methods and expose these crimes.

According to statistics from the National Police Agency, there were 17,520 confirmed cases of unconventional fraud nationwide in 2022, a 20% increase from the previous year. Also, the total amount of damage amounted to ¥36.1 billion, the first increase in eight years.

Among them, the number of refund scams in which victims falsely were told they will receive a rebate on medical expenses or insurance premiums reached a record high, with 4,679 cases involving a total of ¥5.3 billion.

In many cases, the victims are called by phone from people pretending to be staffers of local governments and are skillfully manipulated to use financial institutions’ ATMs to make cash transfers. There have also been noticeable cases in which elderly people have been deceived with the claim that they will receive special benefits as a COVID-19 measure.

It has been 20 years since the family emergency scam, a type of unconventional fraud dubbed the “it’s me” scam, became a societal issue. During that time the roles of the perpetrators, such as “callers” who make phone calls and “receivers” who receive the cash, as well as those who give the orders to carry out the actual crime, have been divided within each criminal group.

The perpetrators are recruited through social media as “underground part-timers.” Many young people casually commit crimes out of a desire for money, but the price they will have to pay is high. The impact on society is also enormous.

Smartphones are used for communication within such organizations. The perpetrators and the leaders directing them do not know each other, making it difficult to uncover a group’s senior members.

Recently, there has been a string of robberies in which unconventional fraud groups are believed to have been involved, and there has even been a homicide. If these groups have started robbing residents as a quick way to get cash, it is extremely serious.

The impact on public safety has been significant, and the prestige of the police is being questioned.

In order to uncover the leaders directing the crimes, it is essential to clarify the chain of command of the organizations and the flow of money. The police, with the cooperation of specialists, are urged to further improve their forensic investigation methods, such as utilizing the latest digital technology to analyze the communication records of smartphones.

Unconventional fraud cases often begin with phone calls from scammers asking victims about their family structure, asset situation and the names of the financial institutions they use. It is important to be vigilant on a daily basis by, for example, never giving out personal or financial institution information to unknown people over the phone.

There have been cases in which victims have sought damages in civil trials from the organized crime groups involved in unconventional fraud. The Fukuoka prefectural police have reportedly decided to introduce a system to help with a portion of the legal fees for such civil lawsuits. Focus must also be put on measures to cut off crime gangs’ financial resources.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 26, 2023)