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Elderly Tokyo residents to get more free recording devices to fight phone fraud

The automatic telephone conversation recording device, which plugs into the exterior of a telephone. (Photo courtesy of the Chiyoda Ward Office)

TOKYO -- All of the capital's 23 wards are expected to have introduced the free distribution of automatic telephone call recording devices by the end of the fiscal year ending in March 2019, as part of measures to combat telephone fraud that targets the elderly.

As of April 2018, there have been 1,346 cases of special fraud using telephones and other means of communication in Tokyo alone -- up by 469 cases from the same period last year. The financial damage to the victims amounts to some 2.872 billion yen. Related parties hope that the free distribution of the recorders will help reduce the growing number of victims.

The automatic telephone conversation recording device can be plugged into the exterior of a land line telephone, and when a call is received, it plays a message, "This call is being recorded" to the caller. To make sure an elderly person doesn't pick up the call without due caution, the device prevents the phone from ringing until after the automatic message has been played.

From the 2016 fiscal year, the ward and municipal governments of Tokyo have been independently working on distributing the devices free of charge, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has been supporting the efforts with grants. With the planned expansion to Itabashi, Nerima, Chiyoda and Katsushika wards, the distribution of the recording devices will cover all 23 wards of Tokyo during the 2018 fiscal year.

Itabashi Ward will hand out a total of 800 devices to residents aged 70 or older from this September. Teaming up with local police stations, households that have received suspicious calls will be prioritized for being provided with the recording devices. In Chiyoda Ward, all of the roughly 8,200 households with elderly members aged 65 or older will be eligible for the devices, and a representative from the ward office says that a worker will be dispatched to the home of each elderly individual who is unfamiliar with the device to explain how it works. Nerima Ward will distribute a total of 1,000 recording units from autumn, and while Katsushika Ward is also planning to introduce the system, the details reportedly have yet to be decided.

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office for Youth Affairs and Public Safety and other sources, the other 19 ward offices that have already begun the distribution will continue their activities.

A representative from Shinagawa Ward, which handed out a total of 900 free devices during the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years, said, "There haven't been reports (of fraud) from the elderly households to which the devices were provided. The results are clear." The ward plans to distribute another 1,000 recording devices during the current fiscal year.

(Original Japanese by Masaki Takahashi, Tokyo Bureau)

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