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Japan's 'Luffy' home invasion gang fakes deliveries to gain entry; How to stay safe

Investigators and others from the Metropolitan Police Department are seen at the home where Kinuyo Oshio was found dead, in the suburban Tokyo city of Komae on Jan. 20, 2023. (Mainichi/Ayumu Iwasaki)

TOKYO -- A robbery gang in Japan led by a figure known only as "Luffy" is continuing its string of home burglaries, employing rough tactics including posing as delivery people before violently forcing their way into victims' homes. The Mainichi Shimbun spoke with a home security expert to find out how people can keep safe.

    The robberies include an October 2022 incident when cash totaling around 35 million yen (roughly $268,000) was stolen from a home in the suburban Tokyo city of Inagi. And that December, a seven-member crew forced their way into a home in Tokyo's Nakano Ward, stealing around 30 million yen in cash. And in January 2023, Kinuyo Oshio, the 90-year-old resident of a home in Komae in Tokyo suburbs was killed and her home left wrecked by an invasion.

    Due to the similarity of tactics used, investigators believe the same criminal gang is linked to recent robberies in other prefectures including Yamaguchi and Hiroshima, according to sources close to the case. The thieves present themselves as delivery people, use violence against the residents, and make off with cash and other valuables.

    "First of all, people should take care of the basics of home security, such as making sure their doors and windows are properly locked," said Hiroaki Hamada, an expert in home security at Tokyo-based Secom Co.'s Intelligent Systems Laboratory. "Next, it's important to make sure that they don't let robbers enter their homes."

    Secom Co. Intelligent Systems Laboratory researcher Hiroaki Hamada (Photo courtesy of Secom Co.)

    He urges people to be cautious when encountering delivery people and other unfamiliar faces, adding that they should use a video intercom and look through the door's peephole to confirm who's there, and use a door chain when dealing with them, such as when drivers ask you to sign for deliveries. Hamada also advises people ask for packages to be left in front of the door or use a delivery box. If someone shows up claiming to be a gas serviceperson or the like, ask them to show proof, and ask yourself if you had been contacted by the utility company.

    According to Hamada, people should remain vigilant when returning home, such as by checking their surroundings for any suspicious people and not taking the elevator with anyone they don't recognize. He also advised against wearing earphones, to be aware of one's surroundings, particularly when returning home at night.

    If, despite heeding the above warnings, robbers gain entry to one's home, what is left to do? Hamada said, "The most important thing is to protect your life. There is no right way to deal with robbers, but in general, don't fight back, and give them money when they ask for it." He also recommends not keeping a large amount of cash in one's home.

    A tweet by the Metropolitan Police Department's Community Safety Division, echoing the advice of Secom's Hiroaki Hamada for people to improve their home security, and asking people to call police if they receive suspicious calls or encounter suspicious people or vehicles.

    In addition to home invasions, some robberies target empty homes. Hamada says that it's important not to let on when no one is home. People should be careful about letting mail accumulate while they're away for a long period of time. "Don't make it easy for criminals to figure out the family makeup, which would allow them to know when everyone in the family is out," he said, such as by leaving documents with personal information in the garbage. Use a shredder.

    Hamada added, "Increasingly in recent years, thieves have stolen goods by going through unlocked doors and windows while residents are at home. It's important to keep these locked, even while at home."

    (Japanese original Takayuki Kanamori, Digital News Center)

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