It was not until two 20-somethings claiming to be from the gas company knocked on his door that the old Japanese man realised his mistake: two hours earlier he had answered the phone to an “officer” from a Tokyo police station and said how much money there was in the house. Except, of course, the man on the phone was not a police officer, though the elderly victim – who has not been named – would later tell investigators that he sensed nothing out of the ordinary. The 80-year-old’s reward for his honesty was being assaulted and bound, after which the two “gas company” employees ransacked his house, took 20,000 yen (US$189) in cash and a bank book with his account details before fleeing. Fortunately, the victim in this case was unharmed, managed to free himself and sought help from a neighbour – but others have not been so fortunate. In late September, two men dressed as gas company workers talked their way into the home of an elderly couple in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward, before assaulting the 80-year-old homeowner and binding his arms and legs. When his wife came home, she was also tied up and forced to reveal the PIN to their shared bank account. One of the assailants stayed with the couple while his partner in crime emptied the couple’s bank account, the Sankei newspaper reported. As in other cases, the descriptions of the attackers were vague. Tokyo Metropolitan Police have issued an alert for people living in the city and its surrounding prefectures to be on their guard against anyone claiming to be a police officer or from a utilities company after at least 12 similar attacks were reported in the last 10 weeks. Virtually all the victims were elderly, most were bound with duct tape and some were beaten, suffering broken bones. In Japan it is still quite common for police to go … look in on the older folk Jun Okumura, elderly Japanese analyst In an earlier case, a woman aged 80 from Tokyo’s Koto Ward choked to death after her arms and legs were bound and the attackers sealed her mouth with tape so she could not call for help. Jun Okumura, an analyst at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs who is himself in his early 70s, said he believes part of the problem is that elderly Japanese are simply too trusting of people who claim to be in positions of authority. “In Japan it is still quite common for police to go around neighbourhoods, talk with the local residents, look in on the older folk and have a presence,” he said. “Unfortunately, those same people can be taken in when they get a phone call from someone who claims to be from their local police station and asks them questions.” Economic hardship connected to the coronavirus pandemic, with lost jobs and falling incomes, is probably at least partly to blame for the recent wave of incidents, Okumura said, adding it is “worrying” that there are no positive signs on the horizon that the crime wave is coming to an end. Elderly drug mules: are Japan’s yakuza behind wave of arrests across Asia? “I understand that these cases are connected, so it appears that somebody is rounding up people with financial difficulties to do these robberies in an organised way,” he said. “And now that these cases are getting more coverage in the media, people are becoming more careful and those who were easy targets – the ‘low hanging fruit,’ if you will – have already been robbed, I fear these people might increasingly resort to violence.” Tokyo Metropolitan Police declined to comment on the case on the grounds that investigations are ongoing, although the Asahi newspaper reported that a number of arrests have been made in conjunction with the robberies in Kanagawa and Chiba prefectures. The suspects have told police that they were contacted through social networking sites and assigned targets. Authorities are working on the assumption that a small group of individuals is orchestrating the attacks, although it is not clear whether the police are any closer to identifying or apprehending them. In the meantime, police are calling on residents to not open their doors to unexpected visitors and to only communicate with visitors via an intercom. Householders are also being instructed to verify the identities of any workmen with their head offices before opening the door.