Scams in Japan: Protect yourself from fraud

For the record 3.2 million foreigners living in Japan, one of the country's most attractive features is its low crime rate. But many are falling victim to fraud.

This is the first installment in an NHK World series that aims to help foreigners protect themselves from crime and live safely in Japan.

Fake police and embassy officials

In July last year, a Chinese student in her 20s received a call from someone claiming to be a mobile phone company employee. Speaking in Chinese, the caller explained the student's phone number was being used for fraud and asked her to contact the Chinese police.

She followed the instructions and spoke to a man claiming to be police. He told her she had been identified as a suspect in a fraud case and ordered her to transfer 24 million yen, or 160,000 dollars, as bail to a designated bank account. The student lost the lot in what turned out to be a scam.

Japanese police say Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai residents are being targeted. Some cases involve fraudsters pretending to be police or embassy staff from the foreigners' home countries, asking them to pay a deposit due to their bank account or passport being illegally used by a crime group. Sometimes the scammers will suggest there are problems relating to visa renewals.

Foreigners are advised against answering calls from unknown numbers. In the case of a suspect call, hang up immediately and report it to family, friends or the police.

Investment scams

Police are warning about fictitious investments. One victim says she remitted tens of thousands of yen in June 2023 to a bank account designated by a man she met on social media. He claimed to be from the same country as her. He introduced her to a website where he said she could earn a good profit.

Several thousand yen was transferred into her account after her remittance, so she believed she could trust the man what told her and sent more money.

When she asked to access some of her funds, he told her that she needed to make further transfers. She sent several million yen ― and he then severed all contact.

Tokyo police received more than 100 similar reports from foreigners during 2023. The largest number of victims were from China, followed by Vietnam, the Philippines, and other countries.

To avoid falling victim to this type of scam, police advise extreme caution on social media. Do not trust someone whose identity is unverified and if you are asked to invest, check first with family, friends or police.

Tickets to nowhere

Buying air tickets is another area in which foreigners are being swindled.

Last year, a man using a social media site found a ticket with a full fare face value of around 200,000 yen being sold for 90,000 yen. He paid for the electronic ticket into a designated account, but when he tried to use it at the airport on the day of departure, it was invalid.

In most similar cases, victims found their tickets invalid, or their bookings canceled, and they were unable to recover their money.

The highest number of victims are from China, Vietnam and the Philippines. During 2023, individuals lost in the range of hundreds of thousands of yen to more than one million yen.

People are advised to purchase plane tickets from licensed travel agents ― or directly from airlines.

Currency exchange and foreign transfers

Many foreigners living in Japan frequently exchange currency and make overseas transfers. Fraudsters, again using social media, are finding a way to trick people using these services.

One case filed with the police involves a woman who was lured by an acquaintance she met through social media into exchanging money without commission. She transferred about 100,000 yen worth of foreign currency into a designated account, but the money was not exchanged, and the other party cut contact.

Other victims report handing over cash in person.

In 2023, Tokyo police received more than 50 reports from foreigners who fell victim to fraud during currency exchange and overseas transfers, mainly from Chinese, Vietnamese and Filipinos.

Individual losses ranged from hundreds of thousands of yen to more than ten million yen.

Police say people must always verify if a vendor is a reliable entity. Never transfer money if you feel even a little unsure, and consult with trusted friends and family, or police.

Credit card and mobile phone contracts

Foreign nationals who sign up for a credit card or a mobile phone in Japan often find they need some Japanese language to complete the process. In some cases, they use an agent to help.

It turns out some so-called agents are stealing personal information from online applications ― and the victims receive requests for payments that they knew nothing about. In some cases, multiple credit cards are being issued to make unauthorized purchases.

Mobile phone contracts are another danger area. One victim found a service on social media that claimed to help foreigners to make mobile phone contracts. The victim entrusted their residence card and other documents to the agent, who secured them a mobile phone, but also made multiple other phone contracts without their consent.

Police urge people against entrusting their residence card or personal information to someone they don't know.

*Click here to read the second installment:
Scams in Japan: Shady part-time jobs that promise easy money (May 29, 2024)