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Police, consumer watchdog warn of fraud based on era name change

A message on the website of the National Consumer Affairs Center warns of fraud based on the upcoming era name change in this recent photo. (Mainichi)

Police and the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan (NCAC) are warning of a growing number of cases in which fraudsters are swindling consumers out of money by taking advantage of the coming era name change in May.

In these cases, the scammers identify themselves as local government officials, bank employees or insurance company workers. They typically tell their victims that they can receive a tax refund and that their credit cards need to be replaced because the era name will be changed. Victims who fall for the scam end up revealing their PIN numbers and handing over their cash cards or sending the cards to addresses designated by the culprits.

In one such case, a woman in her 70s living in the Saitama Prefecture city of Ageo, north of Tokyo, received a phone call in mid-February from a man calling himself a municipal government official. The man asked her to provide her bank account details, saying part of the tax she had paid would be refunded. After the woman passed on the information, the man told her that she needed to replace her cash card because the era name would change. The woman handed her cash card to a man who visited her home, just as she had been instructed. She subsequently noticed that approximately 900,000 yen had been withdrawn from her account.

Japan's era name will change from Heisei to a new one after Emperor Akihito abdicates on April 30 and Crown Prince Naruhito accedes to the Imperial Throne the following day.

Multiple cases similar to the Ageo incident have been confirmed in Saitama, Yamanashi and other prefectures.

In other cases, fraudsters have sent people documents instead of calling them. The NCAC received a report from a woman in her 50s in January about such a case. She received a document from the "Japanese Bankers Association" saying that she needed to replace her cash card under the revised Banking Act in accordance with the upcoming era name change. The document instructed her to write down her PIN in a designated document and send it back together with her cash card. She complied with the instruction. Similar mailed items have been confirmed in Tokyo.

Groups of scammers involved in so-called "special fraud" -- in which mainly elderly people are defrauded by suspects over the phone and through other means of communication -- often take advantage of current news events to develop new deception methods. So far, purchases of tickets to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, registration fees for the Social Security and Tax Number System and support for disaster-hit areas are among such special fraud cases.

"It's common practice among fraudsters to bring up topics of the time. Financial institutions never ask customers for their PIN numbers or instruct them to return their cash cards, so consumers should ignore such requests," said an official of the NCAC.

(Japanese original by Takuya Suzuki, Saitama Bureau; Ryotaro Ikawa, Kofu Bureau; and Tomoko Igarashi, City News Department)

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