The number of fraud rings using multimedia terminals in convenience stores to get victims to pay fictitious invoices is rapidly increasing.
The terminals are usually used for the reservation and purchase of items such as concert tickets, but recently have been tapped to also process the depositing of electronic money. What exactly does fraud groups' new method of avoiding detection entail?
In mid-October in Kobe, a woman in her 70s received a message to her mobile phone. "Your membership fee has yet to be paid. If you do not contact us by today, we will take legal action," it read. When she called the contact number provided in the message, a man answered the phone. He told her to pay 198,000 yen before the end of the day.
The confused woman did just as the man told her, heading to a convenience store multimedia terminal. She entered the "reservation code" told to her by the man, and took the slip of paper with a barcode spit out by the terminal to a clerk behind the register, and paid 200,000 yen in cash.
The woman said she thought she was making a payment to the operator of a paid website. However, this was not the case at all. Instead, her 200,000 yen in cash had actually added electronic money to an Amazon gift card managed by the member of a fraud ring.
Up until now, false invoices mainly asked for money to be transferred to a particular bank account. But due to police crackdowns and countermeasures made by financial institutions, fraudulent selling and buying of accounts is regulated, and it has become harder for swindle groups to procure accounts for their operations. Because of this, tactics such as making victims buy a prepaid card, getting the card number from the victim by phone and then defrauding them of their right to use the card have emerged.
On the one hand, for fraud groups, this method has merits such as eliminating the need for a "receiver," who usually takes cash directly from a victim, from the equation. On the other hand, because a single prepaid card has a comparatively small limit of several thousand to several tens of thousands of yen that can be added to the card at once, it is necessary for the groups to have their victims buy large numbers of the cards, and this poses the risk of tipping off suspicious convenience store employees to their activities.
This cat-and-mouse between the swindlers and police led to the groups settling on the multimedia terminals. By using the machines, they can get several tens of thousands of yen in profits in just a single transaction, and thus a new method for fraud was born.
The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) second investigative division arrested six people including 31-year-old Ryo Fujisaki on suspicion of theft in the case of the swindled Kobe woman and other charges on Nov. 8. Fujisaki and the others are suspected of defrauding at least 100 million yen from people nationwide since February of this year.
According to the MPD, cases using convenience store terminals in this way to commit fraud are rapidly rising. In the Tokyo Metropolitan area last year, there were six cases for a total of 2 million yen in damages. But from January to October this year, there have already been 35 reported cases for a total of 23 million yen.
"Fraud groups come up with new methods one after the other," a senior investigative official for the MPD said. "Along with reminders to be cautious, we would like to put our full strength into apprehending the offenders."