DIY students tackle Japanese ATM fraud

DIY students tackle Japanese ATM fraud

In a bid to tackle scammers swindling elderly people out of cash, Japanese students have developed a security tool that warns members of the public to turn off their mobile phones when they approach ATMs.

In recent years Japanese pensioners have been targeted by conmen practising "It's me!" fraud. Criminals phone elderly people and pretend to be a relative who has been caught up in a traffic accident or minor crime and trick the victims into transferring money to their accounts.

Sometimes the fraud will involve separate calls, with fraudsters also impersonating policemen or wronged parties. When they are impersonating a relative directly, they use line-quality, stress or other reasons to excuse their changed voice. The fraud usually ends with the elderly victim being talked through the procedure of transferring money using an ATM.

Now The Mainichi Daily News reports that four students at the Institute of Technologists in Gyoda, Saitama Prefecture, have developed a device to integrate with an ATM that detects electric waves when mobile phones are used within a radius of 1.5 metres and warns the user of potential fraud and asks them to turn their phone off.

Similar devices are already on the market in Japan, but cost tens to hundreds of thousands of yen, while the students' effort costs just Y3000, after piecing together their device from components widely available in the Akihabara electronics shopping district of Tokyo.

Saitama Prefectural Police are now looking for a manufacturer for the device.

Last month 56,000 police were deployed to guard about 80% of the country's 98,000 cash machines on pension day in a bid to stop elderly people falling victim to the fraud.

At the time, police said that conmen have tricked people - mainly pensioners - into transferring more than $211 million to their accounts via ATMs so far this year and there have been 346 related arrests.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reports that October's campaign by Japan's National Police Agency (NPA) to raise awareness of of the fraud has yielded a 38% reduction in instances of the crime from peak levels recorded in March and June 2008.

Many ATMs already bear notices educating users about the "Ore Ore" fraud, and it has been widely publicised in the Japanese media for the past four years. But despite this, the scam is still successfully finding victims among Japan's aging, savings-rich population. The mobile phone detection and warning at the ATM is seen as a last line of defence and a final reminder to potential victims.

This 2005 post from Captain Japan's blog has more details on how the scam works, and how theft of personal information often allows the fraudsters to do their homework on victims before they pick up the phone.

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