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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Rehabilitating young fraudsters

Sho Honma

Jul. 31, 2017

A rising number of teenagers in Japan are being arrested over fraud. The main scam is to contact an elderly person by phone or mail and fool them into handing over large sums of money. Criminal groups use these youngsters as money collectors. Recently, government officials introduced a trial program to rehabilitate them.

In a juvenile training school, 80 teenagers live together and work toward their rehabilitation.

The number entering the facility for fraud has risen rapidly over the last few years. Twelve boys at the facility were arrested for acting as money collectors.

One of the boys said he lost his job and needed money. He says an older acquaintance told him there was an easy job he could do, and introduced him to a group of scammers. He was soon working for them as a money collector.

"I got calls telling me where to go. I didn't earn much -- just a few hundred dollars each time. I was enjoying what I was doing. Looking back, that's obviously not right," he says. "Sometimes I didn't have any sense of guilt. It didn't feel like I was actually committing a crime."

In most cases, money collectors just go where they're told. They are not fully aware of their crime, or the lasting damage it causes.

"Youngsters see it as a part-time job -- an easy way to make money. They don't really see that what they're doing is a crime," says Ibaraki Juvenile Training School Instructor Masashi Kobayashi.

Authorities are taking new measures to raise awareness among young people about the criminal nature of fraud targeting the elderly.

Nearly 30 teenagers live together at Ichihara Juvenile Training School, southeast of Tokyo. The facility started a new rehabilitation program this April.

The course examines the whole structure of fraud and teaches the participants how they can avoid reoffending.

"First, they need to understand the victim's feelings, and that they've committed a crime," says Instructor Wataru Yoshida.

Today's topic is "What the victim loses from fraud."

"It's important for you to know how much time and money the victims spent so they could live the way they did," Yoshida tells the teenagers.

The course also requires the youngsters to share their opinions so they can gain a deeper understanding of what they did.

"Has the victim only been robbed of their money?" Yoshida asks them.

"There are many people around my age walking the streets. When the victims see them, they're probably reminded about the fear they felt. They might not want to go out anymore. Maybe it's an exaggeration, but we've possibly robbed them of their freedom," says one of the teenagers.

The course aims to help the youngsters understand the seriousness of their crimes and get back on the straight and narrow.

This boy says the program has helped him see how naive he was.

"Since I was just delivering the money, I didn't care about the crime itself. But after taking the classes, I learned that we're just pawns, and there are people still hiding while we're the ones who were caught. I realized how stupid I was," he says.

Now that he's grasped the full picture of his crime, he thinks about the pain he's inflicted on the victims.

"When we rob money from the elderly, it's not just about the money. We end up stealing their futures, too. I used to take it lightly, but it's a serious crime," he says.

These youngsters might be naive, but there's a good chance that they can be rehabilitated. That's why efforts are being made to help them so that they can contribute to society.