Posts Tagged ‘crime’

Experience counts for something in JR embezzling incident

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

JR ticket office

On March 16, JR West pressed charges against a 50-year-old employee who allegedly embezzled ¥86 million. The unnamed worker, who was hired by the railway company in 1980, when it was still part of Japan National Railways (JNR), worked in the ticket office of Akashi Station on the JR Sanyo Line. He has been accused of printing out fake teiki (commuter passes) for which he gave out equally fake refunds that ended up in his pocket. All in all, he carried out this fraud 659 times and supposedly spent the money on gambling and other “entertainment” activities. But what’s more interesting is that he didn’t do it alone. He apparently enlisted the assistance of seven other staff members who confessed that they felt pressured into going along with the scheme because of the accused’s seniority.

The suspect first started the racket when he was working at Asagiri Station on the same line. He would issue fake passes and then dispense refunds for the passes after the imaginary customers who purchased them reported they were defective. Since these passes are issued by vending machines, the salesperson keeps the supposedly defective pass and refunds the money, which the customer uses to buy a new one. Under such circumstances the salesperson has to write a report for the refund and then later someone has to verify the refund report with the returned pass, but somehow the employee figured out that no one ever actually did this. In fact, he probably could have continued the scam indefinitely if another employee in JR Nishi Nihon who worked on the Takarazuka Line hadn’t been caught doing the same thing, thus causing management to look a little closer at records to see if it wasn’t more widespread. Apparently it was. Even before they caught the Akashi embezzler, investigators discovered an employee at Osaka Station who had pilfered ¥32 million.

But none of the other embezzlers used underlings to help them bring in more cash. A JR executive told reporters that the seven accomplices were contract workers in their 20s, meaning their employment was not guaranteed. When questioned about why they agreed to participate in the scam, they said the accused, who was their supervisor, made it impossible to refuse. They knew it was wrong, but believed that if they didn’t obey his orders they’d lose their jobs. After five years they are given the opportunity to become regular employees, but if they don’t they aren’t rehired, since contract workers are limited to four rehirings. One of the seven stopped working for JR before the incident came to light.

After JNR went private in 1987 and the company was split into several regional railways, many older workers were laid off. Some sued and are still fighting to get their jobs back, but in any case JR West didn’t hire many new graduates in the subsequent decade, which means there is a wide age gap in the company’s ranks. At Akashi Station, for instance, eight of the 41 employees are in their late 40s and 50s, while the rest are in their 20s. Most of these younger employees are contract workers who have to renew their employment every year. The hourly wage is about ¥1,000 (following a three-month probation period during which they earn ¥890 an hour). JR didn’t reveal what the accused employee’s salary was, but according to Nenshu Lab, a wage research group, the average salary for a full-time JR West employee, regular or not, is ¥6.73 million. In 2005, however, the average salary was ¥7.24 million, which would seem to indicate that more contract workers have been hired as older workers retire.

Auto thefts in Japan record first rise in a decade

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Sitting pretty: Hiace with steering wheel lock

In 2011, 24,928 cars were stolen in Japan, an increase of 1,153 vehicles compared to 2010. This was the first time the number of thefts had gone up since 2001 when 63,275 cars were stolen. Obviously, things have gotten a lot better since then, owing mainly to the standardization of electronic ignition systems, which make it more difficult for thieves to start a car and drive it away.

The General Insurance Association of Japan reports that the model stolen the most — based on statistics from November — is Toyota’s large van, Hiace, which isn’t to say it was the model most targeted by thieves. Hiace does not have electronic ignition as a standard feature, thus making it relatively easier to hot wire. Its popularity among regular ignition cars, though, is well-known by insurers, who say that Hiaces have three things going for them in terms of resellability: They are very durable, they are easy to find parts for, and they are very popular overseas. They’re the Kalashnikovs of the automotive world.

The GIA doesn’t reveal how much its members shelled out in claims for stolen cars. Collision insurance for one’s own car is optional in Japan, and the customer can decide the level of coverage. The same is true of optional auto theft insurance. Since mandatory liability insurance runs car owners around ¥50,000 a year regardless of how old the car is, many people just don’t buy optional auto insurance.

Continue reading about auto theft in Japan →

Tale of the tape: shoplifiting solution or just a band-aid?

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Even on the avocado?

Even on the avocado?

To paraphrase the Stones, summer’s here and the time is right for stealing. Or, at least, that’s what the National Police Agency thinks. Incidents of shoplifting rise during the summer months, apparently because of all those minors with nothing constructive to do after school lets out. The NPA has produced a public service announcement stating unequivocally that “shoplifting is a crime” and arranged for it to be shown in movie theaters before screenings of the new Studio Ghibli animated movie “Kari-gurashi no Arietty” (The Borrowers), assuming that all those bored, itchy-fingered kids will be in the audience. The PSA takes the curious position that youngsters, particularly elementary school and junior high school students, don’t know that manbiki (shoplifting) is a hanzai (crime).

The NPA seems slightly behind the curve on this one, according to a recent report on NHK Tokyo’s Friday night news feature program, “Tokuho Shutoken” (Capital Special Report), which offered statistics showing that most shoplifting arrests involve adults. Fifteen years ago, it was mostly minors who stole things from retailers, but adult shoplifting subsequently skyrocketed, and last year there were 30 percent more arrests of people over 20. In fact, elderly people make up a good percentage of those arrested.

The reasons for this rise are many and not particularly difficult to comprehend. The main concern for retailers is how to prevent thefts from happening in their stores. The NHK report said that shoplifting in Tokyo alone accounted for business losses of ¥67 billion in 2009.

Japanese retailers have always resisted the security measures adopted overseas to prevent shoplifting, mainly because of Japan’s famous public order but also because of the special proprietor-customer dynamic that says you don’t do anything to make patrons feel uncomfortable, like asking them to check their bags at the door or put them in lockers, which is fairly common in the U.S. and Europe and is even a normal practice in South Korea.

Anti-shoplifting measures in Japan rely more on psychology. The NHK report showed how employees of a book store were trained to constantly greet customers with a cheery and loud “Irasshaimase!” (welcome), which supposedly has the effect of intimidating would-be boosters, especially if the employee manages to make eye contact with the customer. The implication is: “We are watching you.”

However, other than cameras, the occasional undercover security guard and the even rarer alarm gates the only generally accepted shoplifting-prevention measure in Japanese stores is the use of bags, which is meant to indicate that a person has paid for the items he or she is leaving the store with. Of course, resourceful shoplifters will easily think of ways of using bags to their advantage, but one thing the NHK special emphasized, at least with regard to older shoplifters, is that they aren’t always devious. If anything, they steal out of a need for attention or just out of compulsion.

The bigger problem with the bag solution is that, due to environmental concerns, many customers are bringing their own bags to stores so that they don’t have to use the plastic or paper ones that the stores provide. Again, in Europe and the U.S., retailers, especially supermarkets, actively discourage the use of bags. In South Korea, supermarkets regularly charge if you want bags. In Japan, since bags provide proof-of-purchase, there’s the problem of how do you know whether or not someone leaving a store with a non-disposable “eco bag” full of groceries didn’t steal them unless you check his receipt? The solution is embossed tape, which cashiers apply to the purchased items.

The Super Value solution

The Super Value solution

This is even a more dubious solution than the whole bag idea, since there aren’t usually enough security personnel in a store to check for the tape when a customer leaves. In fact, tape may actually do exactly what retailers are trying to avoid by not implementing truly effective security measures: It bugs the customers. I know several people who take offense to the practice, since its lack of common sense implies that customers are fools. That may be taking the issue a bit too much to heart, but, for sure, tape has no effect on shoplifting at all. It’s a psychological remedy, but the psychology is aimed backwards at the retailers, who fool themselves into thinking they’re actually doing something about the problem.

Super Value, a discount supermarket, has come up with a better idea. When you bring your gray basket to the checkout line, the cashier exchanges it for a yellow one without any handles. Since all customers bag their own groceries, anyone seen beyond the checkout area with a gray basket is automatically under suspicion. It isn’t a perfect system — dedicated shoplifters can probably think of ways of sneaking out merchandise without using baskets — but it certainly makes more sense than the tape method, which is just plain lazy.

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