Teens taking 'part-time jobs' as runners for fraud rings
"They think of it as a part-time job. They don't understand how serious a crime it is."
That's the way one investigator described the attitude of teens arrested over involvement in bank transfer fraud. And the number of teens caught up in this kind of fraud is growing. According to the National Police Agency (NPA), 61 minors were apprehended in 2010 in connection with such fraud scams. In 2011 there were 133, and in 2012 there were 167. These minors include high school kids and even students at some of Japan's most prestigious universities.
The scams are a kind of con job, with the culprits convincing the victim to transfer large sums of money to a specified bank account or hand it over to a representative. The teens busted over the crimes have usually been "ukeko," or runners sent to collect the cash.
In June last year, a 19-year-old university student working at a Tokyo bar-restaurant was approached by a customer who said simply, "I've got a good job if you want it." The man belonged to a fraud ring, and he was on the hunt for new "ukeko" on orders from the ring's 30-year-old leader, a senior member of a gang connected to the giant Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate.
The student then talked to his junior high and high school classmates, asking them if they wanted part time jobs as "black bill collectors." He managed to hook seven people, a few of them students from Meiji and Hosei universities.
Once the students were in, they were sent by the ringleader to pick up the fruits of the gang's various con jobs. The students went to the mark's home, posing as their son's co-worker or whatever relation was required by the scam, and later passed the money collected to a member of the ring. The runners would sometimes pick up as much as 15 million yen in cash, and would be paid anywhere from tens of thousands of yen to over 100,000 yen for a single job.
Things started to fall apart in August last year. Between that month and October, five of the eight suspected runners were arrested, and the remaining three were questioned. The statements they made to police were startlingly nonchalant: "I thought I'd earn some money over the summer to cover my tuition," "I bought a necklace with my earnings."