Don't Get Scammed in Japan!
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
While Japan is relatively safe it is no stranger to scammers, know the warning signs and protect yourself from scammers!
Hey, it’s me!
Japan is generally considered a very safe country, so it’s hard to imagine getting scammed there. However, recently in Japan, one scam in particular has been getting more and more frequent. It’s called the “Hey, it’s me,” scam or in Japanese オレオレサギ (ore ore sagi). This might be one you’ve heard of in your country as well. Someone calls, opening up with the titular “Hi, it’s me.” After the person on the other end of the line makes a guess as to the identity of the caller, the scam artist proceeds to insist they’re in an accident or some other tight situation, and need cash immediately.
Though the number of recorded losses has gone down, cases jumped to record highs in 2018, and show a trend of continuing to climb. The number of reported cases has gone up by 7.5 percent in the past couple years. Most of these cases happen in big cities, and half of recent cases were in Tokyo, Saitama, and Kanagawa.
It seems easy enough to see through, but you’d be surprised how many people actually fall for it. Of course, like any scam, the technique has only grown more sophisticated over the years, with the conmen playing lawyers, or even policemen, crafting elaborate tales to make you think you’re in some kind of financial trouble.
This isn’t the only scam that happens frequently in Japan, and there are many that target foreigners specifically. If you’re visiting or living in Japan, make sure you stay aware of the different dangers that do exist, infrequent as they may be.
Common Japanese Scams Targeting Foreigners
Hey, it’s Me!
Foreigners aren’t immune to these scam. If an unfamiliar number calls you, answer in your native language or pretend not to know Japanese. Chances are they’ll give up and leave you alone.
Or if you're feeling bold and want to help stop their nefarious behaviour, play along on the initial call and document any vital information and after you hang up contact the police and give them all the information you gathered. The more evidence the police gather the more chance the scammers can be stopped.
There are a couple different bar scams. Some might involve tricking you into a bar for an inexpensive cost, then gradually racking up your bill until by the end of the night you’re thousands of dollars in debt to the bar. This happens often in Tokyo’s Kabukichou.
Another, more dangerous scam involves people spiking foreigners’ drinks in order to steal their wallets, passports, or extort them for money when they wake, claiming they owe the bar a ridiculous amount. There have also been reports of sexual assault, Don’t let your guard down just because you’re in Japan.
Fake Cop Scams
It can be very intimidating if a cop approaches and speaks to you in your own language, let alone a foreign one. It's not uncommon for police to approach foreigners and ask them for ID or documentation and be questioned about why they are in Japan by the police. Generally they are nice about it and send you on your way after a quick chat, but that might not always be the case.
The danger here is that most of us wouldn't think twice about handing over our residence card to someone in uniform, but there are some cases where you should be wary. This 2014 Japan Times article details the rare scam of people impersonating police officers and targeting foreigners, due to required ID laws that differ between foreigners and native Japanese people. If a police officer approaches you and looks suspicious (some impersonators will walk around in normal clothes), ask to see their badge, or go to your nearest kouban. The article also has a few handy phrases to try and sniff out imposters.
These might be the most common one. You’ll often see fake monks in Akihabara, who will come around asking for donations. They might even have books with names and donation amounts written in them, but they’re likely fake.
Along this same vein, people might ask for donations for disaster relief, or a Thai orphans fund. It might sound like a good cause, but it’s probable the only person who will get your donation dollars is the person you gave them to.
Cults and Religious Groups
Getting dragged into a cult activity in Japan sounds like a bad joke, but it’s a very serious and real possibility. It's actually not uncommon for seemingly friendly people to approach you on the street or in a Tullys and just strike up a pleasant conversation. They may compliment your backpack or ask you about the store you just came out of, anything to get you talking.
Often they will approach you in English so as a foreigner you may feel, "oh thats nice, foreigners in Japan are being friendly with other foreigners, " or, " it's nice to speak in English with a Japanese person." They might even express interest in engaging in a language exchange with you. Especially since so many foreigners in Japan are English teachers or already do have language exchange partners, it may not seem unusual for someone want to do a language exchange.
But be cautious because sometimes the extreme openness is too good to be true. They might ask you one prying question to make you pause and then of course, offer you the solution - Religion. Other times they might even get you to exchange contact information and set up another meeting armed with information pamphlets all with the motivation to recruit you into their cult.
It starts simply, "just come to one meeting, the people are really nice and no commitment required — let us share with you our philosophies, that have helped so many better their lives." But it's a slippery slope from there. Cults are a problem in Japan. They might try to entice people in with the idea of volunteer work and make an attempt to brainwash or kidnap people who visit their meetings. Be very wary about where you go, and who you go with.
Jehovah’s witnesses or other Christian groups aren’t too uncommon. They can get pretty aggressive in their recruiting as well, knocking relentlessly, or bodily attempting to enter your apartment. If someone you don’t know knocks on the door and you don’t know them, or feel uncomfortable, not answering is usually the best solution.
Last paycheck scam
This can affect people who are temporarily working in Japan. Some companies might try to get away with not paying your last paycheck, because once you return back to your home country there’s not much you can do about it. Make sure to review your contract thoroughly and do your research about the company you’re getting involved with.
No one ever thinks they could be the victim of a scam, but it’s not impossible. Stay vigilant and if something seems suspicious, follow your instincts and ask questions, rather than just going along with it. Don’t let your visit to Japan be tainted with a scam!
About the Author
I've been in love with Japan since I was twelve years old. After studying at Kansei Gakuin University and teaching for three years under the protection of Mount Tate in scenic Toyama prefecture (where you'll find the most beautiful Starbucks in the world), I returned stateside to attend Kent State University to get my Masters in Japanese Translation. Now I've been given the wonderful opportunity to intern at IZANAU for what's sure to be a glorious summer.