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Surge in scam victims feared after Japan lowers age of adulthood

Jun 23, 2022

Japan's lowering of the legal age of adulthood from 20 to 18 in April is feared to result in a spike in the number of young people getting in trouble with scams such as multilevel marketing schemes using cryptocurrencies.

Experts say that 18- and 19-year-olds who have been protected as minors may become new targets for scammers, and have therefore called for legislation to annul contracts that take advantage of young people's lack of judgment and financial knowledge.

In November, Tokyo's Metropolitan Police Department arrested seven people linked to a self-purported investment group over violating the Financial Instruments and Exchange Act after they allegedly gathered some ¥65 billion ($562 million) in cryptocurrency assets by promising high returns.

The suspects boasted in recruitment videos that people can become billionaires by their 20s through cryptocurrency investment, advertising high earnings from a young age.

Around 70% of consultations regarding the scheme to the National Consumer Affairs Center (NCAC) of Japan were from people aged between 10 and 29.

A 22-year-old university student from western Japan was invited to invest in the scheme in January 2020 by an older student in a school club. He was told that he could earn money by tapping his smartphone screen once a week.

Despite being skeptical at first, he later saw an Instagram post by the older student featuring photographs of wads of bank notes and high-end restaurants and boasting that he earned ¥4 million per month.

A month later, the student poured around ¥300,000 he earned through part-time work into the investment scheme and invited friends to join. However, he became unable to receive the promised dividends just half a year after the investment.

"I feel sorry for people I invited," he said.

"Minors were not likely to become scam targets because of possibilities of refund demands," as the Civil Code stipulates that contracts concluded by minors without parental consent can be annulled, said Shinichi Hirasawa, a lawyer specializing in consumer issues.

With the age of adulthood set to be lowered to 18 in April with the revision of the law, many new adults under the age of 20, who are believed to lack sufficient knowledge about investment and contracts, may become targets, an investigative source warned.

"I want people to say no if they feel it is sketchy," Mika Fujikawa from the NCAC said.

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