Saturday, April 30, 2011

"It's Me! It's Me!" - The Simple Little Scam That's Scouring Japan

In the corner of many ATM kiosks in Japan, you'll find a small sign with a comic on it. The comic will show a frightened-looking person - often an older person, a grandmother in an apron - holding a phone. The voice on the other end says, "Ore da, ore da! Taihen da!" "It's me, it's me! Oh, god, something awful's happened!"

This is the Ore-Ore Scam, a classic phone grift used heavily on older individuals who don't hear from their families often. It goes like this: the victim receives a call from someone sounding distraught, perhaps hoarse, crying out, "It's me! It's me!" The victim makes a guess - "Is this Takeshi?" "Yes!" says the scammer. "There's been an accident! I need money! Please, you have to help me!"

On the strength of this story, the victim makes up his or her own details. "Was it a motorcycle accident? I told you you shouldn't go riding that thing at night! I warned you, Takeshi!" "Yes, I know, I'm so sorry! Please hurry, grandmother!"

The victim then hurries to the ATM with their cellular phone and initiates a bank transfer. Japan, a cash-based society, doesn't use checks or credit heavily - most large money transfers take place via a system called "furikomi," which simply involves entering the name of a bank and an account number into the ATM. Because the sender needs provide only an account number, not a name, they never realize that the person they're sending the money to is not "Takeshi." Most people don't memorize their wayward motorcyclist grandchild's bank account number.

The scam depends on two things: one, the victim's inability to recognize a loved one's voice over the phone; and two, their willingness to invent their own story of what happened for the scammer to use. The Ore-Ore Scam works most commonly on older people with nothing to do. While it's common to think of scam victims as people who let greed get the better of them, the Ore-Ore Scam shows a different kind of psychology - it feeds the need for importance, not the need for cash. Given the unusual chance to save the day, victims jump without thinking.

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