The Yomiuri ShimbunLaw enforcement authorities are heightening their vigilance against numerous cases of fraud involving the use of Japanese citizens’ credit card information, stolen online and through other illicit means, to book accommodations for Chinese visitors to the country.
Financial losses from these scams totaled more than ¥5 billion ($44 million) last year, according to an estimate by the Japan Cybercrime Control Center (JC3), a general incorporated foundation comprising such entities as police and security firms.
According to the center, criminal groups involved in these frauds pretend to be travel agencies and send messages via Chinese social media, including Weibo and QQ.
The messages say, for instance, “We’ll provide airline tickets to Japan, hotel bookings and other services for lower prices than major travel agencies.”
The groups are believed to have earned large profits by selling airline tickets bought on Japanese travel websites with stolen credit card information.
Losses from the unlawful use of credit cards soared to about ¥23.6 billion in 2017 — up more than 60 percent from the previous year — prompting JC3 to investigate the issue. The nonprofit organization subsequently estimated that of the total, at least about ¥5 billion was stolen in travel-related cases.
20% discounts offered
Some of the perpetrators have been unmasked by police, but they represent only the tip of the iceberg.
On Oct. 18, the Saitama prefectural police rearrested a man of Chinese nationality, on suspicion of computer fraud for booking accommodations with other people’s credit card information.
The man is believed to have been involved in a coordinated crime — sources say he had set up a group with friends working at travel agencies and other firms, and received orders from customers by posting messages on Chinese social media, saying things like “We’ll provide a 20 percent discount for hotel bookings.”
Financial losses from credit card abuses are reimbursed by credit card companies and travel site operators. Jalan.net, an online travel reservation site, was used for about 3,000 bookings with stolen credit cards from March last year to August this year. Recruit Lifestyle Co., a Tokyo-based operator of the site, has reportedly incurred losses as high as about ¥270 million.
JC3 is sending an alert about credit card information theft by disclosing relevant information — such as fake online shopping sites — on its own website and through other means. However, the methods used for these scams are increasingly sophisticated these days, such as fraudulent websites that look just like authentic sites and phishing emails.
“We want to rout out illicit activities by widely spreading the word about specific criminal tactics and calling for credit card users to be vigilant as well,” a JC3 official said.
Countermeasures beefed up
The number of foreign visitors to Japan stood at about 28.691 million in 2017 — up about 20 percent from the previous year and a record high since 1964, when Japan’s tourism authorities started compiling relevant statistics. China was the No. 1 source of visitors with 7.3558 million.
Tourism-related industries are accelerating efforts to introduce countermeasures, as fraudulent travel booking activities and resulting problems are expected to increase further ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, when even more tourists are expected to visit the country.
At a meeting on Oct. 25 for relevant officials, including representatives of credit card and hotel industry groups, JC3 explained how to detect key signs of online fraud — such as when credit cards are used in a different way than usual, or when multiple accommodations are booked with a single ID code. The organization urged participants to coordinate their efforts in a bid to prevent further fraud.
“It is undesirable that this [credit card fraud] is happening amid an increase in the number of foreign visitors,” said a public relations official of the Japan Association of Travel Agents, a Tokyo-based general incorporated association.