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Fake 'hometown tax' shopping sites to defraud donation money on the rise

FUKUOKA -- Local governments across Japan have found numerous fake online shopping sites that aim to defraud consumers of "donation" money, supposed to be given to local governments in return for income and resident tax deductions under the "hometown tax" system.

These fraudulent websites tend to use photos and other contents from official websites without permission. They are also inclined to proclaim to offer significant discounts based on the amounts of donations.

An official from the city of Koga in Fukuoka Prefecture noticed a fake internet shopping site on Dec. 3 that was using unauthorized copies of graphical contents from the official Rakuten Furusato Nozei website. Assorted food items and seven other local specialties were listed as gifts to be given at reductions of up to 35 percent from the official prices. Furthermore, city officials have discovered a separate website imitating an official one.

Gifts of local specialties from at least 12 municipalities in this southwestern Japan prefecture were put up on several fake websites, according to investigations carried out by the prefectural police. A woman in Fukuoka thought she had donated 7,200 yen to the city of Kama, but the website she accessed in July was fraudulent and she did not receive the beef listed as a return gift.

A screenshot of a fake online shopping site shows gifts from various municipalities in Japan that are supposed to be returned to donators under the "hometown tax" system.

When the municipal government checked on the website, it had already been shut down. An individual's name had been used on the payee's account for the bank transfer. The Fukuoka Prefectural Police have begun to investigate the case as suspected fraud. It is also mulling over if it can build prosecutable cases over the creation of fake websites for violating the Trademark Act.

The same kinds of internet shopping scams are inflicting widespread damage on municipal governments across Japan. The government of the town of Teshio, in the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido, recognized that its crabs, scallops and other goods had been falsely listed online in late October. Some of these gifts were marked with 20 to 30 percent discounts.

The Yamagata Prefecture city of Sakata in northern Japan, the Shizuoka Prefecture city of Gotemba in central Japan, the Kyoto Prefecture city of Kameoka in the western part of the country, the Nagasaki Prefecture city of Shimabara in the south, and other local governments have confirmed their local gifts in return for hometown tax donations were on fake sites. Each municipal government is raising the alarm through their official websites.

Hometown tax system users often concentrate their efforts in December because the amount donated until Dec. 31 is subject to be exchanged with income and resident tax deductions for fiscal 2019.

One company running an official hometown tax website has adopted measures such as internet monitoring and working closely with the police to shut down such sites and to prevent fake websites from ranking high in search results. However, a representative of the company stated, "Even if we shut down (the fraudulent website) it is created again."

Municipal officials warn that discounts are never applied to hometown taxes and websites advertising discounts "are 100 percent fake."

(Japanese original by Shunsuke Yamashita, Makoto Kakizaki and Masashi Yomogida, Kyushu News Department)

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