In Japan, Law Firms “Specialized In The Romance Scams / Money Recovery” Come To The Top Of Search
In Japan, if you search “romance scams” (国際ロマンス詐欺) on Google in the Japanese language, the law offices claim to be specialized in online romance scams come to the top of the search. These law offices say they have successfully recovered the loss for the online romance scam victims.
This is becoming a secondary victimization in Japan.
Why Victims Go To Japanese Law Offices Instead Of Police
The recent arrest of the Japanese scammer in Ghana in 20221 and the arrest of local scammers involved in online fraud since 2019 indicate that the Japanese police do investigate and arrest online scammers, mostly Japanese nationals and foreigners who live in Japan.
However, scam victims in Japan are negative about reporting to the police.
The Japanese nonprofit organization of NPO CHARMS conducted a survey with 68 scam victims on multiple choice questions to ask about the reason why they did not report to the police in 2020.
There are several possible reasons victims in Japan prefer not to report to the police. 30% of the 68 respondents in the survey indicated fear of being known by family and friends or feeling ashamed of reporting. It was significant that 70% of respondents reasoned that police will never investigate their case. And if the victims reported to the police, the victims encounter negative responses. In the same survey, 43 respondents who reported to the police indicated that the police officer rejected their claim and was treated as a consultation only.
The negative experiences of those who reported to the police in Japan may possibly write about their bad experiences on social networks. The survey also indicated that 30% of respondents trusted the negative feedback on police reports on social networks.
The survey did not find a relationship between victims’ choice of reporting to the police or to law firms. However, the law offices claim to be able to recover the loss could possibly draw the victim’s attention when they became aware of scam and used Google search to find a savior.
These law firms in Japan are becoming a secondary source of victimization to the Japanese relationship scam victims because they paid retainer fees for investigation and recovery but end up with no positive results of the recovery which these victims were expecting.
The Advertisements By Law Offices in Japan “Specializing In Online Relationship Scams” Violates Basic Rules
The Tokyo, Japan Bar Association, and Chiba Bar Association warn about such law offices with misleading advertisements.
According to the Tokyo Bar Association in Japan, online lawyer advertisements that claim to be a specialist for online romance scams violate the Japanese Attorney Act, the Basic Rules of Lawyer Duties (referred to as the “Basic Rules”), or regulations regarding lawyer advertisements (referred to as the “Advertising Regulations”).
For example, the law firms claim that they had successfully recovered the full amount of the loss, which is likely to be a fictional case and does not align with reality. (Violations of factual accuracy or Article 3, Clause 1 of the Advertising Regulations). These advertisements claim 24/7 consultation services throughout the year, while only one lawyer is in place in the law firm. (Violations of factual accuracy or Article 3, Clause 1 of the Advertising Regulations). Some advertisements claim that consultations use LINE (messaging app popular in Japan), and, in reality, office clerks handle the messages from clients while lawyers do not provide any assistance. (Supervision of staff members or Article 19 of the Basic Rules, non-lawyer collaboration or Article 27 of the Attorney Act).2
Money Recovery In Japan – Not Necessary To Use Law Firms
The total recovery of the loss caused by online relationship fraud is mostly impossible. However, there are possible ways to recover part of the loss, from the domestic bank accounts used by scammers. [SCARS NOTE: increasingly, it is now possible to recovery cryptocurrency as well]
In recent years, since 2018, more Japanese bank accounts have been used for online relationship scams.
Between 2018 to 2021, 40% of Japanese victims came to the NPO CHARMS organization (under its former name “STOP romance scams”) for free consultation on Facebook, mentioning that their scammers were using Japanese bank accounts. The use of Japanese bank accounts enabled the scam victims to claim their loss by applying to the Criminal Accounts Damage Recovery Act.
The Criminal Accounts Damage Recovery Act is aimed to pay damage recovery benefits to the victims of financial crimes. (Act No. 133 of 2007) This enables the freezing of the bank account used by the criminals and distributes the amount left in the bank account to the victims who sent money to that account. Recently more Japanese bank accounts are used for online relationship scams, especially with the Pig butchering scams. If scam victims apply this procedure through the police agency and the bank, this is totally free of charge.
It is not wrong to use law offices to carry out this procedure on behalf of the scam victims. Some scam victims may be mentally and physically unable to carry out the procedures for recovery. But the victims should also be aware that the amount of money distributed from the bank account may be less than the retainer fee because only a small amount is left in the money mule’s bank account.
Negotiation With The Bank Account Owner Works?
Another possible recovery technique that scam victims may expect from law offices is direct negotiation with the bank account owners.
However, before accepting the offer of a lawyer who promises money recovery by negotiating with the bank account owner, victims should understand who the bank account owner is.
The bank accounts used by local fraudsters for recruiting and illegal job offers.
If the bank account user’s name indicates a foreigner’s name, such as former foreign students or workers who went back to their country. According to Nikkei Online (2019), the accounts can be sold for $250 to $400 USD, and foreign students and workers sell their Japanese bank accounts not knowing this is illegal to sell.3 In such cases, the bank account owners are no longer in Japan.
Another possible case is that the bank account owner is a scam victim, who was not aware of being used as a money mule. In the case of 419 fraud, scammers often make victims a money mule.
The scammers promise their victims that they will return the money, and a certain amount may be deposited into the victim’s bank account. Then the scammer may ask to transfer part of the “returned amount” to another place, such as a child’s guardian in the homeland. This kind of money mule is not aware of being used by criminals, and already lost huge amounts of money to the scammers and may not have sufficient funds to recover the loss.
The Pig Butchering Investment scams have different tactics.
Figure 1 (below) shows how it works.
The Pig Butchering scam often allows the victims to withdraw a small amount of investment at the early stage of investment. For example, in this diagram, Victim A invested $1000USD which was increased to $1300USD. His scammer suggested he withdraw $1300USD, which is a trap to make him believe that the investment service is real. Then in another victim story, victim B was suggested by her scammer to invest $1300 USD. She was told to send the investment money to a personal bank account under Victim B’s name. Victim B believes that the $1300USD he has withdrawn from his own investment account, and the personal name of the sender was an investment service’s staff. On the other hand, victim B believes that the bank account in Victim B’s name belongs to the investment customer service. In this case, if you are Victim B and your lawyer says he can negotiate with Victim A to return money to you, then you also should think about whether you will someone with a personal name send any money to your bank account. This is because you also be receiving money from another scam victim.