Product-sending scam on sharp rise in Japan

The number of fraud victims, mainly elderly ones, who pay for health foods and other products they did not order when they are unexpectedly delivered by courier, has shown a sharp increase in the first half of this year.

There were 421 reported cases in those six months, with the total damage exceeding 14 million yen. In most cases, criminal enterprises used a service in which a delivery company collects money for a product on behalf of senders.

"It is a new method to elude detection by police," said a senior official of the National Police Agency, since perpetrators do not need to reveal themselves in person to collect money from victims.

This "product sending scam" has been observed before, and there were 16 cases in January.

Since then, the number of cases has skyrocketed, reaching 123 in June alone. Of 421 cases in the first six months of 2013, victims were aged 60 or older in 362 cases, or 86 per cent.

The service that criminal businesses often utilize in the scam is payment on delivery, in which a courier collects money from a recipient for a product he or she delivers. This method was used in 371 cases, or 88 per cent. It is usually difficult for victims to reject payment because the delivery person usually does not know the background of the parcels.

In one case described by the NPA, an 88-year-old man in Iwate Prefecture suddenly received a phone call in February from a man claiming to represent a health food company. "We'll send the product you ordered," the caller said.

Since the man did not recollect ordering anything from such company, he said he did not need it. But the man on the phone turned argumentative: "We make products only as we receive orders for them. It's too late to tell us to cancel--we're in a real bind here."

The man eventually agreed to receive the product, only because he wanted the persistent importuning to end. The next day, a courier delivered a paper package of tablets and the man paid 19,800 yen.

To prevent further damage, police nationwide have informed delivery companies of names of the criminal businesses, and requested them to cancel contracts with those businesses and not to forcibly ask for payment at shipping addresses when rejected.

Police advise members of the public to turn down telephone solicitations regarding products they do not remember ordering, to reject payment after explaining the circumstance to a delivery person if a product is sent, and to promptly contact police or consumer affairs centers if they notice anything suspicious.