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Scams and swindles

Call recorders keep phone scammers at bay, prevent Tokyo’s elderly being conned

Devices attached to pensioners’ landlines play a message to anyone who calls, warning them their conversation will be recorded

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 July, 2018, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 July, 2018, 8:35pm

Every elderly person in Tokyo is being issued with a free device that plugs into their home phone and issues a warning to would-be scammers that their call is being recorded.

The initiative is the latest move in a campaign against cold callers who try to deceive people out of their life savings.

Hundreds of the call recorders have already been installed in the homes of elderly people in the capital and authorities across the city’s 23 wards are aiming to have every pensioner connected to the system by the end of March next year.

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The equipment is plugged into a standard telephone and automatically plays a message to any caller. Only when the message has finished does the phone ring for the householder to pick up.

The initiative is clearly needed as – despite the problem of phone fraudsters being around for more than two decades and frequent police campaigns warning people to beware of cold callers asking for money – new statistics suggest the message is not getting through.

In the first four months of the year, police received reports of 1,346 cases of telephone fraud in Tokyo alone, up by 469 from the same period last year.

The financial cost of the fraud is estimated at Y2.872 billion (US$25.5 million), the Mainichi newspaper reported.

One of the most common frauds – and, surprisingly, still effective – is known as the “ore, ore” scam.

The name comes from the words that the con artist quickly says as soon as the victim picks up the phone and can be translated as “Hey, hey”.

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The criminals make dozens of cold-calls until they come across someone they are able to fool into believing they are a relative in dire need of help; in some cases they claim they have been in a car crash and need money to pay for the repairs, or they themselves have been robbed and need cash to get home.

The helpful victim, convinced they are helping a member of the family, transfers money to the callers’ bank account – where it promptly disappears.

In some cases, the same victims – most of whom are elderly and trusting – have been talked into parting with cash on multiple occasions for various reasons.

On May 31, an 84-year-old woman from Tokyo’s Itabashi Ward received a phone call from someone she was convinced was her oldest son.

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He claimed he lost a briefcase containing important work documents and needed money quickly to fix his mistake.

The woman agreed to help and the caller said he would send a friend around to collect the cash. In all, she handed over Y82.5 million (US$734,000) before realising something was wrong and called her actual son to ask him about the money. Police have so far been unable to trace the scammers.

An official from Tokyo’s Shingawa Ward, which has installed 900 recording units, told the Mainichi that there have been no reports of fraud from elderly people whose phones have been modified and there are plans to deliver an additional 1,000 devices in the next few months.