Don't reply to unfamiliar email or SMS! Spam emails may drag you into trouble!
Consumer affairs centers and other entities across Japan have received numerous inquiries about spam emails or SMS (short message service) sent to mobile phones, personal computers, etc. The number of such inquiries kept increasing since FY2014. Some of the inquirers complained about receiving spam emails (e.g. "I receive dozens of spam emails in a day, which is annoying") and others got in trouble triggered by spam (e.g. "I received an SMS billing an unpaid balance for viewing a paid site, and I paid the bill", "I received a winning email which notified that I was entitled to get money. Although I paid a charge to receive the money, no money has been transferred to my account").
Therefore, NCAC decided to inform consumers of recent cases of the inquiries and advice.
Number of inquiries received by PIO-NET1
Inquiries about spam emails2 temporarily decreased between FY2012 and FY2013, but increased from FY2014 (See Diagram 1). When the inquiries were categorized by generations of contract signatories,3 it was found that the ratio of those at the age of 60 or more4 increased year by year since FY2012.
Diagram 1: Transition in the number of inquiries
Inquiries about spam emails amounted to 25,125 in FY2012, 24,244 in FY2013, 34,093 in FY2014, 42,990 in FY2015, 45,387 in FY2016, and 6,365 in FY2017 till May 31, 2017. For comparison, the number in FY2016 till May 31, 2016 was 3,336. The ratio of cases where contract signatories were aged 60 or more was 14.9% in FY2012, 21.7% in FY2013, 32.1% in FY2014, 38.0% in FY2015, 41.1% in FY2016, 43.5% in FY2017.
- 1 PIO-NET is a database that collects information on inquiries concerning consumer affairs by linking the National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan with local consumer affairs centers and similar organizations across Japan via an online network. This article uses data received by PIO-NET till May 31, 2017. Inquiries referred from local consumer affairs centers, etc. are not included.
- 2Inquiries about spam emails on this article mean inquiries about spam emails which are against Act on Regulation of Transmission of Specified Electronic Mail and those against Act on Specified Commercial Transactions, as well as those about unwanted emails or SMS received by mobile phones, personal computers, etc.
- 3 Contract signatories in this article mean those who received spam emails.
- 4 The number was counted excluding cases where contract signatory's age was unidentified.
Sampling of inquiries and complaints (month and year of receipt and nature of contract signatory shown in parentheses)
The inquiries and complaints are roughly divided into those about receiving spam emails and those about problems triggered by spam emails.
(1) Problems of receiving spam emails
- [Case 1] After entering my personal data such as email address on a website for a certain purpose, my email address started to receive spam emails.
- I installed an application which I won as a prize into my smartphone. When I played a slot game in the application, the screen showed "You've won a cash prize". After entering and sending my personal data such as postal address, name and email address, my email address started to receive a pile of spam emails.
I wonder if my email address and other data were leaked to somewhere. It's so annoying and I want them to stop sending spam emails.
- (received in April 2017, woman in her 50s in Niigata, salary earner)
- [Case 2] I don't know how to block spam emails.
- In autumn last year, I started to receive spam emails saying like "I will give you 200,000,000 yen", "Meet a mature woman on this website", etc. From a few days ago, I receive a spam email every three or four minutes. I specified to reject emails from certain domains,5 but there was little effect. What should I do?
- (received in March 2017, man in his 50s in Chiba, self-employed)
- 5 The part of an email address after the "@" sign.
(2) Problems triggered by spam emails
- [Case 3] I was billed an unpaid balance for viewing a paid site by someone who pretended to be with an existing company.
- Two weeks ago, my smartphone received an SMS saying that there was an unpaid balance for viewing a paid site from a sender claiming to be with a major mail-order company. I didn't know anything about it, but I phoned the sender, because the message said they would take legal action if I didn't contact them. The respondent told me that I had registered the website two years ago and there was unpaid balance of about 190,000 yen for viewing the site after a charge-free period. Although I felt dubious about it, I was told that 90% of the balance would be refunded by using insurance. I was instructed to buy prepaid cards at four convenience stores and to tell the prepaid cards' numbers. I was also told that I had been registered to two more websites, and I additionally bought prepaid cards, which amounted to about 500,000 yen in total. Five days later, I was further told that I had been registered to a foreign website and was charged about 1,000,000 yen. The respondent told that since it was a foreign website, all the charge would be refunded. I talked about it to my friend, who told me that it might be a fraud. I went to the police to ask about the matter. Then I found out that it was a fraud. Is it possible to request a refund?
- (received in May 2017, man in his 60s in Mie, salary earner)
- [Case 4] I received an email saying that I could get money, but I haven't received money even after paying a charge.
- My smartphone repeatedly received emails saying that I won hundreds of millions of yen, although I didn't remember applying for such a prize. I began to think that I had probably won the money, and I replied to the email. I received a response that I had to pay a registration fee of 10,000 yen to get the cash prize, but the money would be refunded along with remittance of the cash prize. Then I bought a prepaid type e-money card at a convenience store as I was told. I took a photo of the card's ID number and I sent an email with the photo. Later, I received an email saying that I had to pay a service charge of 20,000 yen to get the cash prize. After three days, I further received an email saying that I had to pay a bank transfer fee of 20,000 yen. I bought e-money cards again and emailed the numbers to them. On reconsidering the matter, I found several suspicious points. My friend told me that I surely had been fooled. I want to get back the 50,000 yen.
- (received in March 2017, man in his 60s in Saitama, salary earner)
- [Case 5] When I replied to an email which seemed like being misaddressed, I was navigated to a dating website.
- My mobile phone received an email saying "I changed my email address". I replied to the sender out of kindness, "Did you misaddress your email?". Next I received an email with a photo of a young man, saying "Taking this opportunity, let's exchange email addresses". Not knowing his intention, I didn't reply to the email. Then I received an email with a URL and I happened to be registered to a website. I was told that I needed to have points to exchange email addresses with the counterpart. Although I didn't know what the points mean, I transferred 10,000 yen as I was told. I was instructed to take a photo of the transfer detail and to send the photo via email, so I did as I was instructed. I was further told that more points were required, so I transferred 30,000 yen. During the course of exchanging emails, I sent a message "Is it a fraud?". The correspondent replied "If you think so, transfer 900,000 yen or 1,000,000 yen!". I was intimidated by the strong words. Soon after, I was charged 200,000 yen. I responded, "I cannot send such a big money". Then the correspondent replied, "If 200,000 yen is too big for you, transfer 100,000 yen". At that time, I could not help but transfer money, because I was threatened by blackmails. I think it is a fraud, so I want to get back all the money I paid.
- (received in March 2017, woman in her 60s in Akita, unemployed)
- [Case 6] A phishing6-like email navigated me to a website. I happened to enter my personal data.
- Last night, my personal computer received an email from someone claiming to be with a certain OS manufacturer, saying "Your PC's OS product key was abused". I clicked a URL on the email and I was navigated to a website, where I entered my postal address, name, mobile phone number, email address and password. There was also a space for credit card number, but I felt suspicious about it and did not enter the field. Today I phoned the OS manufacturer to ask the matter. The company replied that they did not send such an email and it might be a phishing scam. I entered my personal data including my password which I also use for other services. What should I do?
- (received in January 2017, woman in her 50s in the northern Kanto region)
- 6 Phishing is a fraudulent scheme by which a scammer sends a fraudulent email with a URL pretending to be with an existing company to someone and navigates the recipient to a fraudulent website (phishing site) to get his/her personal information such as postal address, name, bank account number, credit card number, etc.
Advice for consumers
If you receive any unfamiliar email or SMS, delete it without opening it. Remember the following points as well.
(1) Don't respond to any unfamiliar email or SMS.
i) Never access the contact written on unfamiliar email or SMS.
According to the inquiries received, some consumers replied to unfamiliar emails or phoned the sender to tell that the email was misdirected. If you respond to such an email or phone the sender, you may be navigated to a different website such as a dating website and may be involved in trouble. Your email address and telephone number may be leaked to someone else and further personal information may be taken while exchanging emails. Never react to what was written on unfamiliar emails or SMS messages.
ii) If you feel uneasy when receiving any email or SMS from a sender claiming to be with an existing company, visit the company's website or contact the company via email to confirm whether or not they sent such a message.
There have been inquiries about fraudulent emails from a scammer who pretends to be with an existing company and bills an unpaid balance or navigates a recipient to a fraudulent website (phishing site) to induce him/her to enter personal data such as credit card number telling that he/she needs to redefine ID number due to an unauthorized login. Even if you receive an email from a sender claiming to be with an existing company, never click the URL nor phone the number written on the email. If you feel uneasy, visit the company's website or contact the company to confirm if the company issued an alert about false emails pretending to be with the company.7
- 7 The Consumer Affairs Agency put out a press release several times to inform the public of a fraudulent scheme, by which a scammer pretends to be with an existing company and induces consumers to pay an unpaid balance. (http://www.caa.go.jp/caution/property/)
(2) Take some measures to avoid problems caused by spam emails.
i) Update your OS and security software to the latest version.
In order to improve online security, update OS and security software if any for your mobile phone, smartphone, personal computer, etc. to the latest version.
ii) Check and use anti-spam services by mobile phone companies, providers, etc. as well as security software.
Anti-spam services by mobile phone companies, providers, etc. as well as security software may enable you to block certain emails or domains, and may enable you to set certain unfamiliar emails to be isolated in a folder which is different from a usual mail folder. Confirm and use services available under your contract.
iii) Think about changing your email address and phone number.
If you cannot block spam emails whatever you try, or if you feel uneasy after your email address and phone number were leaked to a certain company for any reason, think about changing your email address and phone number.
(3) If you got in trouble triggered by spam emails, consult and inform your local consumer affairs center or helpdesk concerned.
There have been cases where consumers got in trouble over a billing fraud or dating website triggered by spam emails. If you feel uneasy or got in trouble, consult your local consumer affairs center. There are a couple of organizations8, 9 collecting information on spam emails based on Japanese laws, which welcome your information on spam email problems.
- *Consumer hotline: 188 (no prefix)
The three digit phone number, which is common nationwide, will connect consumers to a nearby consumer affairs center established by a local government.
- 8Japan Data Communications Association (JADAC) receives inquiries and collects information about spam emails which are against the Act on Regulation of Transmission of Specified Electronic Mail as a registered transmission regulation organization under the Act, entrusted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. Information collected by JADAC is notified to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications to be utilized for taking government measures. JADAC also prepares and publicizes informative materials including "Anti-spam measure guidebook".
Spam Trouble Counseling Center is accessible via telephone number 03-5974-0068 at 10:00-12:00 and 13:00-17:00, excluding Saturday, Sunday, Japanese national holidays, and year-end & new year holidays. Consumers can provide information on spam emails which may be against the Act on Regulation of Transmission of Specified Electronic Mail by forwarding such emails to the email address on the following website.
- 9Japan Industrial Association (JIA) collects information on spam emails which are against the Act on Specified Commercial Transactions and investigates compliance to the Act, entrusted by the Consumer Affairs Agency. Investigation results are notified to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications to be utilized for taking government measures. Results of analysis are publicized every month. Consumers can provide information on spam emails which may be against the Act on Specified Commercial Transactions by forwarding such emails to the email address on the following website.