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Monday, December 13, 2004

Ore Ore - It's Me

How many times did you find yourself in a situation like this one: The phone rings. You pick it up, and somebody on the other end of the line says: "Hi, it's me". You reply: "Oh hi, how are you darling?". There is a short pause, and the other person says: "I'm not your darling, I'm your next-door neighbour".

Cases of mistaken identity over the phone are a common occurence and usually end up with no lasting damage, just a small embarassment. But in Japan, police have been warning the public for months now about a scam which has been called the "it's me" scam.

Middle-age or elderly women are usually the victims. Callers start the conversation by saying "Ore, ore" ("it's me, it's me" in Japanese), usually in a sobbing voice. They pretend to be a relative in distress, asking for money urgently in order to get out of trouble: a traffic accident, an abortion for the girlfriend or to pay off a loan. The elderly victim, wanting to help the relative in trouble, rushes to the nearest ATM and transfers the money to the account number the caller provides. End of scam.

Sounds far-fetched? Not so. According to police estimates, by the end of this year about 15-20 billion yen (around 150 million US dollars!) will have been fraudulenty transferred to "ore ore" callers. These numbers have prompted a nation-wide campaign by police, banks and cellular phone companies to try and put an end to this despicable scam.

So next time you hear "ore ore" on the phone, take your time to make sure the person on the other end is indeed someone you know, before parting with your money.

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