Asia Life

Japan’s “Ore Ore” Telephone Scam Claims Another Victim

Con artists in Japan pretend to be loved ones in trouble, target the elderly.

A 73-year-old woman was swindled out of 15 million yen ($150,000) earlier this week by a brazen fraudster pretending to be her nephew. The enterprising criminal told the woman that he had lost a 30 million yen ($300,000) check from his employer, and then begged her to lend him half of the amount, claiming that the boss’ wife would front the remaining half.

The distressed target, hoping to rescue her nephew-in-need, withdrew the sum in cash from her safety deposit box. She then handed the money off to a man claiming to be the son of her nephew’s boss at a train station in Saitama, a prefecture bordering Tokyo.

She is the latest to fall victim to Japan’s infamous ore ore (“it’s me, it’s me”) scam – where a con artist indiscriminately cold-calls telephone numbers until finding someone that he or she thinks can be tricked into handing over money. Elderly pensioners are the most common targets, with Japan’s largely cash-based society making it even easier for criminals to avoid being traced.

Scammers conjure up a variety of scenarios in order to get sympathy – and cash – from their kind-hearted (or just plain naïve) victims, often involving lost money or debts to dangerous people. Some even pose as police officers, claiming damage costs from a relative’s car accident.

One particularly cold con artist tricked a woman in Chiba Prefecture out of 7.5 million yen ($75,000) to help with his girlfriend’s pregnancy costs.

Japan’s National Police Agency (NPA) estimated that such scams and other similar swindles netted criminals a staggering 12.8 billion yen ($128 million) last year, according to The Japan Times. The NPA reported more than 4,600 cases of telephone fraud in 2011.

Ore ore scams are highly publicized in Japan. A popular Japanese comedian, Korokke, previously starred in an NPA-sponsored anti-scamming ad campaign. Signs in banks and next to ATMs warn customers to be wary of callers asking for money, recommending that they approach police before handing out cash. Many banks currently impose withdrawal limits in an attempt to curb these attacks, and branch staff are trained to spot elderly customers in distress.