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Fraud groups hiring foreigners to receive cash amid struggle to find accomplices

TOKYO -- Fraud groups are increasingly instructing elderly targets to place cash and other items inside their mailboxes so they can collect the loot without face-to-face contact, investigators say. A factor contributing to this trend, they say, is that scammers have started enlisting foreign nationals as "bagmen" amid an apparent shortage of accomplices.

In June, a 70-year-old woman in the Tokyo suburb of Akiruno received a call from a fraudster impersonating her nephew. "I let someone use my name and got defrauded in a stock scam," the caller said. "I need to make up for my losses."

The woman then received calls from two more scammers: an "accountant" who said he was taking steps to solve her nephew's problem, and a "police officer." The fraudsters eventually arranged for a man said to be the accountant's subordinate to come to the woman's home and collect 2 million yen from her.

Normally, the receiver would have collected the money directly from the victim, but the fraudsters told the woman, "The accountant has been marked by the police. Hide the money under your car so the encounter isn't seen."

Growing suspicious, the woman consulted police. A receiver appeared at her house shortly after she pretended to follow the fraudsters' instructions, and the man was arrested on the spot by a police officer from the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) for attempted fraud.

The arrested man was 19 years old and of Chinese nationality. It is not clear why the scammers ordered the money to be placed under the car, but people close to the investigation assume that the fraudsters might have worried that the woman would be alarmed if she noticed that the receiver was a foreigner. The Chinese man could only speak rudimentary Japanese.

According to the MPD's Crime Deterrence Task Force, cases of special fraud, including scams instructing victims to place cash and cash cards inside their mailbox, has been on the rise. In Tokyo, two cases were confirmed for the first time in February, nine cases in April, four cases in May, and nine cases in June, with the total damage reaching some 32 million yen. The receiver was arrested in only one of these incidents, but it is presumed that there are more cases in which foreigners are playing the part of receiver.

According to the MPD, 27 foreign receivers were arrested in 2016 nationwide, and that figure increased to 35 in 2017. Twenty-two foreign receivers were arrested in just the first half of this year.

As for why foreigners are increasingly becoming involved in such fraud, a senior investigator pointed out that there was a "shortage of people who want to be receivers." Receivers who come face-to-face with the victims are at a higher risk of being arrested, and as police crack down and apprehend suspects, the number of people taking on the role is decreasing.

Fraud groups have used all kinds of methods to recruit receivers. Cases in which university students have been lured into fraud rings without knowing it, thinking that they were being hired for legitimate part-time jobs, have surfaced.

The recruitment of receivers seems to have become extremely difficult as police and others spread awareness about fraud. "It appears that (the fraud groups) are approaching foreigners who have connections with gangs," the senior investigator said, adding the number of such cases may increase in the future.

(Japanese original by Tomoko Igarashi and Kazuki Sakuma, City News Department)

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