Fraud cases targeting the elderly, such as tricking them into buying prelisted shares or corporate bonds of fictitious companies, are rapidly increasing in Japan.
According to the National Police Agency (NPA), such cases more than quadrupled to 813 cases nationwide during the first half of this year from 196 cases over the same period last year. The amount of financial damage totaled more than 8.4 billion yen (US$105.8 million) from about 2 billion yen last year.
In many cases, charlatans pretending to be securities company employees trick the elderly out of most of their savings.
Police have tightened security against such fraud. A senior investigator said, "It's a vicious practice to take advantage of elderly people who want to increase their savings even a little bit."
A 67-year-old woman living alone in Tama, western Tokyo, received a sudden phone call from a man identifying himself as an employee of a securities company at the end of October. The man said: "Have you received a brochure sent from an animation production company? The brochures should have been sent to people living in the Tama district."
A few days later, she received a brochure from an animation production company in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district, just as the man said. The brochure was made to solicit investment for the company.
The man called back, saying, "If you invest 1 million yen in the company, we will buy it back for 10 million yen."
The woman had never accepted offers from telemarketers, but decided to invest in the company as she had actually received a brochure and the caller sounded sincere.
She borrowed money from a consumer finance company and transferred 1 million yen into the designated bank account in mid-November.
The man told her the company would buy back her investment soon. However, the company did not accept her request to buy back her investment in January. She asked an acquaintance to visit the company in Ikebukuro to protest.
Her acquaintance actually visited the office, but when the acquaintance went back the next day, the office had disappeared.
The woman cancelled her life insurance to pay her debts with the consumer finance company. In an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun, the woman said, "I had a dream [of making lots of money] because I had always had to exercise economy."
According to the NPA and other sources, the average financial loss per case is as high as 11.07 million yen. Most victims are elderly people. In Tokyo, of 73 victims, 70 were at least 60 years old.
A woman in her 70s in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, was defrauded out of a total of 126 million yen in corporate bond buying schemes in May and June.
According to the NPA, the same victims are repeatedly targeted in some cases. The NPA suspects that lists of victims' names have likely been distributed on the black market.
A senior NPA official said the amount of financial damage has likely increased because con men can aim to swindle larger amounts of money depending on a victim's financial situation.
"In many cases, victims did not realize they had been cheated as they mistakenly believed the phone calls they had received were business calls from securities companies," the official said.
US$1 = 79.3 Japanese yen