One of the consequences of Japan's aging population is that the elderly are increasingly the target of financial scams. These scams often take advantage of the prevalence of dementia, Alzheimer's, and other age-related mental diseases in the population to fleece their targets. Such scams are known by the umbrella term "special scams" (特殊詐欺とくしゅさぎ).

For example, one of the most well-known of such schemes in Japan is the "It's me" scam, or ore-ore sagi (オレオレ詐欺さぎ), in which the scammer cold-calls some with the phrase "Hey, its me" (「オレだけど。。。」), hoping to convince the target that the scammer is one of their children. The scammer then spins a tale of financial woe, and asks the target to transfer money into a bank account.

According to Japan's National Policy Agency, such scams have risen in intensity in the past seven years. Last year saw a long awaited dip, as the number of incidents totaled 16,493 - down 1,719, or 9.4%, from the previous year. But these scams are still prevalent and worrisome, leading to a total loss of around 35.7 billion yen - a staggering USD $320M - a year.

Now a new form of the scam is stalking Japan's elderly - and it's claiming more than cash.

On February 28th, the care manager for 80-year-old Kato Kuniko (加藤邦子かとうくにこ) found her dead in her apartment in Tokyo's Koto ward. Her hands and feet were bound, and her home had been ransacked. Police later determined that Kato had died of strangulation. Security footage showed three men, who entered the building separately, leave together about 30 minutes after the first man entered.

Interviews with a neighbor later concluded that Kato was the victim of what police call the apo-den sagi (アポ電詐欺でんさぎ), or the "Appointment Call Scam". Past scams, like ore-ore sagi, relied on the victims to transfer money to the criminal's bank account. But in apo-den, the caller - who, again, pretends to be the caller's son - pleads some sort of special financial distress, saying things such as, "I got caught up in stocks and took too much of the company's money. How much cash do you have?" Once the criminals are confident the victims have the money in their homes, they break in, secure the cash, and take off, leaving no paper or digital trail to follow.

The current incident resembles several other incidents in Shibuya, where the victims were found bound after the crime. This appears to be the first outright murder related to the scam, however.

Unlike other forms of financial scam, the apo-den is rising rapidly. There were over 34,000 incidents in 2018 - a 30% increase. It's become a popular form of financial attack for organized crime gangs, and police suspect such a gang is behind these recent incidents in Tokyo.

Authorities in Japan continue to press citizens on common sense safety strategies for protecting themselves. Police emphasize the absolute best strategy is not to answer the phone, but let all calls go to voice mail, and dial the caller back later. Hopefully, this incident - as tragic as it is - will result in more people keying in to this wise advice. And hopefully, authorities catch the gang terrorizing Tokyo before they claim another victim.

(JP) Link: The "Appointment Call" Scam Targeting The Elderly: A similar MO in 3 City Cases

高齢者狙い「アポ電強盗」 都内で3件、手口似る