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Scam artists exploit generosity in Japan

Reports of fraud are increasing as con artists solicit donations under the guise of aiding victims of the earthquake and tsunami. A senior official in Japan calls the acts 'heartless.'

March 31, 2011|By Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times
  • Katsuyuki Takahashi managed to recover the portraits of his parents and aunt from a family residence in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture, that was destroyed in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Katsuyuki Takahashi managed to recover the portraits of his parents and… (Damir Sagolj, Reuters )

Reporting from Tokyo — Con artists are soliciting cash and other valuables in Japan under the guise of collecting funds for victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, prompting Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano on Thursday to condemn such "opportunistic crimes" and urge the nation to pull together.

"At a time we must overcome a disaster, it's extremely important that people trust each other," Edano said. "Also, for the people who were affected by the quake and tsunami and who are living in extremely tough conditions, such heartless acts add insult to injury."

In many countries, such scams would be considered run-of-the-mill, widely expected and hardly worth comment by a senior official. But in low-crime Japan, which has seen a surge of national unity in the wake of the disaster three weeks ago, the increasing number of reports of fraud is an affront to those banding together to overcome calamity.

Photos: Japan in crisis

Fraud suspects included a 53-year-old man who called a 91-year-old woman in Tokyo's Shinjuku area and tried to persuade her to hand over money for earthquake victims, and a 24-year-old man who solicited about $150 from a passerby in Tachikawa City, then pocketed the cash. Both men were detained.

In southern Japan's Omuta city, a 24-year-old was arrested after he tricked a senior citizen into turning over some jewelry. The suspect said he was collecting contributions to funds for victims of the earthquake.

Police said criminals have been going around Osaka and other cities, pretending to be maintenance men who need to adjust the electrical circuit breakers, gas valves or perform other utility work "to make sure the building is safe" for the next earthquake. They then solicit money from residents.

The National Police Agency has posted a prominent warning on its website. It reminds the public that government officials will never call or fax private homes seeking donations.

"If you are even a little suspicious," the agency advises, "call police immediately."

Photos: Japan in crisis

julie.makinen@latimes.com

Special correspondents Kenji Hall and Azusa Morii contributed to this report.

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