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Northeast Japan police warn of fraudulent messages over virus, 100,000-yen payments

An example of a fraudulent message concerning 100,000-yen support payments during the coronavirus spread is seen with cautionary annotations in this image provided by the Metropolitan Police Department's Crime Prevention Task Force on their official Twitter account.

SENDAI -- Multiple reports of suspicious phone calls and emails from individuals trying to take advantage of the spread of the novel coronavirus have surfaced in Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan.

Other prefectures have also confirmed the existence of messages designed to prize people's personal information by offering guidance on receiving the Japanese government's 100,000-yen aid payments. Miyagi Prefectural Police urged caution and said that they are concerned people could become victims of scams including "special fraud," which is the collective name for several types of fraud in which scammers impersonate victims' family members, or pose as company representatives, financial workers or police officers, among other professions.

According to the prefectural police's Community Safety Planning Division, at the end of February a woman in her 80s living in the prefectural capital of Sendai's Izumi Ward received a call at home from a man claiming to be a police officer. He reportedly told her, "I have some important things to explain to you regarding corona. I'll be visiting your home." She was suspicious of the message, and approached the police about it.

In mid-march, a restaurant in the town of Matsushima had a call from an individual referring to themself as a public health center employee who said, "Please refrain from opening for business for 10 days."

According to the division, the call appeared to be what is known as an "appointment call" -- a tactic to obtain people's personal data and address information for fraud -- on the pretext of the novel coronavirus' spread.

Emails exploiting the national government's 100,000-yen emergency support handouts with messages including that the money will be distributed through certain mobile phone carriers have been seen across the country. The messages, which come with subjects like "process for receiving payout," invite potential victims to a fake web page that "phishing fraudsters may then use to steal private data," according to the division.

In Miyagi Prefecture alone, some 50 cases of special fraud have been confirmed as of the end of March, with victims losing approximately 108 million yen (around $1 million). The division's deputy director called for caution, saying, "If you have even the slightest suspicions, we want you to telephone the police or your family immediately. It's also important not to answer calls from phone numbers you don't recognize."

Meanwhile, traffic accidents in Miyagi Prefecture have fallen. During its spring safe driving awareness period between April 6 and April 15, there were 78 recorded traffic accidents, the lowest for 10 years. Both accident occurrences and the numbers of people injured were also around half of the number at the same time in 2019.

The prefectural police's Traffic Planning Division said that people refraining from going outside due to the outbreak was "one reason for the fall in the volume of traffic accidents."

(Japanese original by Hana Fujita, Sendai Bureau)

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