Ore ore! It's me.

I love movies and TV shows about con-men. Rockford Files, Alias Smith & Jones, most movies with Michael Caine (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels comes to mind.) and the Grifters. My little brother and his friends have done some penny-ante cons over the years and I remember that I, your humble narrator of this post, once took a couple of marks over Euchre games back in high school (we didn't cheat, they were just really bad players and the money we made went towards the Chess Club coffers! nerd-alert) But after spending several years as a Correctional Officer, counsellor, child-care worker, and then ultimately as a Welfare worker (the biggest scam in Canada), I can usually spot a scammer from a mile away.

But over here in Japan, either the con-artists are more sophisticated or the victims are way more gullible. I suspect the latter.

My favourite grift is the "Ore ore" scheme. When one picks up the phone, you utter, "Moshi, moshi "(Hello) and a close friend or loved one often declares, "Ore ore!" or It's me! In these days of cell phones and caller ID, you almost always know who the caller is before you respond, so mistaken identity is unlikely. But alas, the middle-aged and elderly old ladies whose sons call only intermittently may not use such a device.

So...the scammer states, Ore, ore in a sobbing voice (to preserve the unlikelihood of identifiability) and declares that they are in urgent need of money in order to get out of trouble: a traffic accident, an abortion for the girlfriend/ mistress or to pay off a loan. Mom dutifully rushes to the nearest ATM and transfers the money to the account number provided by the caller. Scam over.

Unbelievable, you may ask? Surely, it can't be that easy to make a buck? Not so far-fetched. According to police estimates, about 15-20 billion yen (about 150 million US$) was transferred fraudulently to "ore ore" callers in 2004. The scams are getting more sophisticated, using two or more callers and researching their mark more thoroughly.

Due to a nation-wide campaign by police, banks and cellular companies to try and end these scams, I noticed this cute little poster in the bank the other day and it prompted me to inform the uninformed.

So the next time you pick up the phone and someone says, "Ore, ore" to you, I suggest you take an extra second and ask a question; "Oh hi, is that you, Hiroki?"

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