TOKYO -- Authorities in Japan are calling on the public to beware of mysterious face masks being sent to homes from unknown senders as they may be malicious sales tactics in which recipients are charged for the unsolicited products afterwards amid mask shortages due to the new coronavirus outbreak.
A woman in her 90s who lives alone in Tokyo found four disposable masks contained in clear plastic packages in her mailbox on the morning of April 22. There were two separate packages, and one contained a single mask and the other one had the other three in it. They were not sealed, and there were no mailing labels or addresses on them.
The masks that the woman received were not the cloth ones that the Japanese government announced it would distribute to all households. She checked with her neighbors and found that the masks were not from the neighborhood association, either. Feeling suspicious, the woman consulted with local police, but it remains unknown as to who dropped the masks in her mailbox.
In the period between February and April 27, consumer affairs centers across Japan received 488 reports of similar cases. A woman in her 70s in the south Kanto region in east Japan received a collect on delivery package that she was not familiar with. She thought it was suspicious. Nevertheless she paid about 1,500 yen for the package and found 14 masks inside. In another case, a man in his 40s in the southern part of northeast Japan received some 30 masks, but apparently there was no bill and the man didn't know who sent them.
The surging number of cases reported to consumer affairs centers totaled 388 in April alone. While there have been no confirmed cases where the recipients were billed after the masks had arrived, in 10-plus cases they were sent as collect on delivery packages.
According to the National Consumer Affairs Center (NCAC), health care products and cosmetic items have been used in a similar malicious sales tactics where recipients are billed after unsolicited products arrive. An NCAC representative warns that in the cases of masks, too, the recipients could get billed later following phone calls or letters. They said, "We want people to consult with us if they're concerned."
Under the Act on Specified Commercial Transactions, a person is not obliged to pay for products that they are not aware of even if they are delivered to their home, and they can discard the items 14 days after their arrival. However, when the products arrive as collect on delivery packages it is hard to reclaim the money already paid. The Consumer Affairs Agency advises, "It's a cardinal rule to reject a package if you don't know how and why it's been delivered to you."
(Japanese original by Kunihiro Iwasaki, City News Department)