Suspicious phone calls can be warning sign of impending crime

The Yomiuri ShimbunIt is terribly shocking that a technique used for so-called special fraud targeting elderly people has also been used for robberies. As these crimes have become increasingly vicious, efforts to prevent more people from becoming victims must be stepped up.

Three men have been arrested on suspicion of robbery and murder and other charges in connection with the killing of an 80-year-old woman in her apartment in Koto Ward, Tokyo, last month. Before this incident, the woman reportedly had received a suspicious phone call at her home asking whether she had cash there.

The “appointment call” method — in which a perpetrator telephones the target in advance to ask whether they have cash at home and where it is kept, plus other personal details such as the composition of their family — is a classic example of the “It’s me” scams in which the caller impersonates the victim’s son or some other acquaintance.

Two similar cases happened in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, in January and February. In those incidents, intruders broke into the homes of elderly couples and robbed them. The couples had received phone calls from someone pretending to be their son. The Metropolitan Police Department suspects the same group was involved in these robberies.

It also is possible the suspects gained information from an organization involved in “It’s me” swindles. Who made the phone calls? Is anybody other than the three arrested men suspected of involvement in these cases? The police must conduct an exhaustive investigation and uncover the whole truth of these incidents.

Financial institutions and other entities are attempting to counter such fraud by speaking to people they suspect might become victims, so there are fears the perpetrators are becoming increasingly brutal as they seek to make money quickly. Devising ways to prevent more people from being harmed is an urgent task.

Ways to deter scammers

In the latest case, the police investigation successfully traced the assailants based on the analysis of security camera images and other information. Apprehending the offenders will be a deterrent to others thinking of committing similar crimes.

In 2018, about 34,000 cases involving “appointment calls” were confirmed in Tokyo alone, an increase of 30 percent from the previous year. It appears lists of people who purchased expensive items and other details have been passed to criminal groups.

It is vital to bear in mind that these phone calls are warning signs of a crime.

Scammers use many shrewd tricks, such as pretending to be employees of local governments or financial institutions. Receiving a phone call regarding a monetary payment should first be treated with suspicion. The recipient should discuss the matter with their family. Such calls should be reported to the police in all cases, rather than doing nothing about it.

A growing number of local governments are lending out automatic call recording machines free of charge. When a call comes in, a message saying the conversation will be recorded is played to the caller.

This safeguard plays on the psychology of a criminal who does not want to leave any evidence. Another effective countermeasure is to use an answering machine and call back only after checking the content of the message.

Losses arising from special fraud cases have remained at a high level. In 2018, more than 16,400 cases were confirmed by police, and damage from these cases reached ¥35.6 billion. About 80 percent of victims were people aged 65 or older.

It is important for people not to be overconfident that they alone will not be fooled by these fraudsters, and to make sure they have basic measures in place to protect themselves from such scams.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 15, 2019)Speech


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