“Ore da yo, ore (Hey, it’s me). I’ve come down with the swine flu. I need some money for hospitalization. Can you send me some right away?”
“But. . . your voice sounds different.”
“That’s because of this awful flu.” (Makes several strangled coughs.) “It’s even changed my voice.”
Shukan Jitsuwa (July 9) reports that in early June, four households in Niigata Prefecture received telephone calls employing this scam. Similar attempts at fraud were reported to police in Nagano, Tochigi and Yamaguchi.
These are by no means the only attempts to exploit people’s fears over the new flu. Shortly after reports of its spread from Mexico appeared in the news, sites on the Internet began offering bottles of “swine flu medication,” with 100 tablets selling at the “bargain” price of 8,000 yen.
When solicited by a caller offering similar goods, an elderly man in Abashiri City, Hokkaido, was instantly put on his guard and politely refused.
“Naturally it’s unthinkable that a new drug could be available so soon after the outbreak of an epidemic,” a reporter at the desk of a news daily tells the magazine. “But it’s just the kind of approach swindlers would take to defraud the elderly.”
The reporter also told Shukan Jitsuwa such scams may be linked to organized crime syndicates, which have been getting increasingly desperate for funds due to the economic downturn.
“They’re pros at deception, and nobody can beat them at coming up with these kinds of scenarios,” he says.
For example, a 60-year-old housewife in Osaka received this proposition: “Ostrich eggs are going to be necessary for development of the new influenza vaccine. Before the prices start to soar, how about becoming the owner of an ostrich?”
“Actually there are indeed moves toward using ostrich eggs for laboratory cultivation of the vaccine, to the degree that new venture businesses might start up,” says the aforementioned reporter. “But the process isn’t expected to begin for three or four years. And it’s ridiculous to solicit bird owners in this manner.”
From this fall, when the flu season begins in earnest, people will definitely need to be on their guard.
“Another scam might be sales of surgical masks,” says a source in the medical profession. “The ones on the market now cannot completely filter out viruses. If anyone could come up with one that really does work perfectly, he’d make a fortune. It’s a tempting idea that could probably earn big profits for swindlers.”
“We haven’t been swamped with complaints about flu frauds at the moment,” says a staff member of the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan. “But we were cautioned by the police to be on guard. Once flu becomes widespread, we’ll be keeping an eye out.
“In the meantime, people should be on their guard,” he adds. “If they receive a sudden request for money, they should confirm it with other family members. And in the event of problems we hope they’ll remember to consult the police.”