E-Money Fraud Gets 19 Japanese Men Arrested in Cambodia

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A hotel in Sihanoukville Province, Cambodia, that a Japanese fraud group was using as its base.

Nineteen Japanese who are allegedly members of a fraud group have been detained by Cambodian authorities. The Metropolitan Police Department obtained arrest warrants for the men on suspicion of fraud targeting a woman in Tokyo, according to investigative sources.

The group reportedly swindled victims out of electronic money, telling them they owed money for an online service.

The MPD plans to dispatch investigators to Cambodia soon to receive the suspects, who will be arrested after being transferred to Japan.

According to the investigative sources, the Japanese Embassy in Cambodia received a tip in mid-January that a Japanese scam group was using a hotel to conduct fraudulent activities.

Once the embassy relayed this information, local police reportedly searched a hotel in Sihanoukville Province in southern Cambodia, about 180 kilometers from the country’s capital of Phnom Penh, in late January, and detained the 19 Japanese men.

The men, who are in their 20s to 50s, reportedly told the police that they entered the Southeast Asian country for sightseeing. However, the investigators found a large number of cell phones, multiple PCs, and manuals outlining fraud techniques in one of the group’s rooms, which was believed to have been used as an office.

The MPD discovered that the suspects had sent text messages to cell phones in Japan, pretending to be from NTT Docomo. When cell phone owners called the numbers in the texts, the suspects would allegedly tell them that they were behind on payments for online services and make them purchase e-money.

The phone numbers the victims called reportedly match those on the labels of the cell phones seized by Cambodian authorities.

The Tokyo police plan to arrest the men on a charge of defrauding a Tokyo woman in her 60s of BitCash e-money worth about ¥250,000.

The 19 men are currently believed to be held at local police facilities. The Tokyo police plan to fully uncover the workings of the scam group, in cooperation with local authorities.

According to the National Police Agency, billing fraud, which includes scams demanding unsettled fees for online services, cost victims about ¥10 billion around the country last year.

In February alone, after the 19 men were detained in Cambodia, billing fraud victims lost a total of about ¥1.1 billion across the country, leading police to believe that there are other scam groups using similar techniques.

Fraud groups spread across Asia

An increasing number of fraud groups are believed to be transferring their bases outside of Japan in an effort to evade police crackdowns. Japanese fraud groups have been uncovered in China, Thailand and the Philippines. The latest case is thought to be the first time that a Japanese fraud group has been detected in Cambodia, causing Japanese police to believe that fraud groups are spreading their bases across Asia.

According to investigators, such groups started making scam calls to Japan from overseas around 2008. Initially, many of these calls were made from China. In 2017, 35 Japanese nationals believed to have been involved in scam calls were detained in Fujian Province. In 2019, a group based in Jilin Province was also charged for making “it’s me” scam calls, and the MPD arrested the group’s leaders and other members.

Earlier this year, four Japanese men suspected of being behind a string of robberies orchestrated by a person or persons using the name “Luffy” were extradited from the Philippines to Japan. The four men are said to have played leading roles in a fraud syndicate near Manila around 2018-19. In March 2019, 18 Japanese nationals were similarly caught in Pattaya, central Thailand, and later arrested by the MPD.

According to NPA officials, 61 fraud group bases were detected in Japan in 2018, but last year only 20 were. This could suggest that fraud groups are accelerating a shift to overseas bases.

Prof. Wang Yunhai of Hitotsubashi University said criminal organizations may find Southeast Asian countries convenient for their activities, as there is little time difference with Japan and many of these countries do not require the submission of personal information to purchase a cell phone.

“Fraud has emerged as a major problem in many countries, so authorities need to strengthen the exchange of intel on such groups’ bases and techniques to bring more of them in,” he said.