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Despite rise in juvenile fraud cases, offenders initially have little sense of wrongdoing

Minors undergo rehabilitation education at the Tama juvenile facility in the Tokyo suburban city of Hachioji on July 4, 2017. (Mainichi, photo partially modified)

With cases of special fraud -- done over the phone or internet with zero contact with victims and a reduced sense of responsibility -- on the rise among minors, three residents of a Tokyo juvenile correctional facility spoke with the Mainichi Shimbun about the circumstances of the fraud and their reflections on their crimes.

    According to Ministry of Justice statistics, the number of minors nationwide sent to juvenile reformatories for delinquency involving fraud was only 78 in 2006, but grew to 250 in 2015. Commenting on this influx of offenders, a senior official with the public prosecutors office said, "Fraud rings deliberately seek out minors, telling them that even if they are caught, they won't go to prison." It is also reportedly common for arrested minors to receive lenient treatment -- spending time in juvenile correctional facilities rather than juvenile prisons.

    The Tama juvenile facility in the Tokyo suburban city of Hachioji, with roughly 130 spots in their 174 roster filled as of the end of August 2017, complied with the Mainichi Shimbun's request for interviews. Delinquency involving fraud came in second behind theft as the most common offense committed by residents, with fraud offenders making up roughly 20 percent of the facility population. In 2012, that percentage was only some 7 percent. In 2015, the majority of minors in the 52 juvenile reformatories nationwide were sent there for special fraud.

    A 20-year-old Tama facility resident who played the part of the "receiver" -- who accepts cash from fraud victims -- said he got involved in the scheme when a former co-worker offered him a part-time job that would make him good money. He waited in empty houses to accept packages from post office delivery workers using a fake name, and visited houses of the elderly to accept envelops filled with "documents." He would take the envelopes to a nearby coffee shop and hand them over to a man that he didn't know. That was where his role ended. For the four cases that he was involved in, he received 200,000 yen.

    When he was arrested by police, he thought it was unreasonable as he felt that he had done nothing wrong -- all he had been doing was receiving packages. However, when he was told by detectives that the envelopes contained meager savings taken from seniors through deception, "I was embarrassed," he recalled.

    A 19-year-old who arranged the movements of the "receivers" was invited by an upperclassman from his hometown to play the part of the receiver, but felt that "the risk of getting caught was too high," and instead offered to join the fraud ring if he could make arrangements instead. By simply conveying to the receivers locations to accept money and other tasks, he would be rewarded 30,000 yen per case. He participated in 10 fraud cases over the course of two weeks. He never once touched the defrauded cash, nor saw the faces of the victims.

    He also said he didn't feel he was doing anything wrong. It was only once he learned after his arrest that a total of over 28 million yen had been defrauded that he felt the large scale of the incidents.

    A 21-year-old "recruiter," who gathered other boys to become receivers, was asked to help out in a fraud scheme by someone he met at a Tokyo club. He introduced roughly 50 people to the fraud ring over the course of seven months. He received a total of 6 million yen as a reward, but used all of it on entertainment expenses. "I wanted the cash in front of me, and my concept of money was warped," he explained.

    "Unlike minors who are sent to juvenile reformatories for being in a motorcycle gang or violent behavior, those sent to the facilities for special fraud often have comparably good grades," says Naoto Kurata, a 25-year-old instructor in charge of lifestyle guidance at the Tama facility. "However, there is a tendency for them to have a strong sense that they were also persuaded and deceived, and have a weak sense that they are guilty of any wrongdoing."

    Because of this, the minors are shown notes written by victims and other materials to prompt them to think from the perspectives of the victims and understand their feelings. They also learn techniques for how to get out of the situation should they be asked to join a fraud ring again -- all in hopes of preventing second-time offenders.

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