Old-school landline phones to protect elderly from “it’s me” scammers

Old-school landline phones protect Japan's elderly from "it's me" scammers

Image of elderly man on phone courtesy of ShutterstockImagine a con artist were to call your grandmother.

“Ore ore” (“It’s me, it’s me!”) they’d say, in the years-old scam.

Then, the swindler would pretend that he was a relative in trouble and that he needed cash.

One example from 2013 is a classic case: a crook called a 73-year-old woman and convinced her he was her nephew and that he’d lost a bag with a ¥30 million check from his company.

He asked her to lend him half the amount while his boss’s wife would cover the other half.

The elderly woman complied, went to her safety deposit box, withdrew ¥15 million (about $150,000, or £97,000), and handed it over to a man who identified himself as the son of her nephew’s boss.

Japan has battled these scams for years, and fraud like this is a huge problem in the country.

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, nationwide losses to fraud for 2014 had already totaled ¥40.4 billion (about $349 million, or £218.6 million) by the end of September.

Gadget makers have tried to apply technology to this problem.

In 2012, Fujitsu and the Nagoya University began to field test phone scam detection technology designed to recognise a phone scammer by combining voice intonation analysis with keyword recognition.

Think agitated caller or call recipient, combined with frequent use of words or phrases such as “indebtedness”, “compensation”, “debt”, or “repayment”.

But the latest attempt to thwart phone scammers isn’t relying on sophisticated voice analysis technology. Rather, it’s going old school with landline phones.

As ITworld reports, Sharp has launched the UX-AF90CL fax phone, and it plans to release its JD-AT80CL landline cordless phone on 13 March.

The phones are designed to alert the elderly to the dangers of unknown callers.

An LED bar on one of the phones will glow red when calls come in from numbers that haven’t been registered in its internal memory.

Registering a number – or blocking it – is as simple as pushing a button. Once a phone number is registered as safe, the LED bar will glow green when the caller calls again.

Beyond the red alert button, the phones also automatically play a message before the call is answered.

The message asks the caller to state his or her name and informs him or her that the call’s being recorded. Sharp thinks that the threat of recording in itself will scare off many scammers.

The phones can also be set to automatically reject calls from anonymous callers, to play audio warnings about scammers, and to advise the phone’s owner to seek help if he or she suspects fraud.

This old-school technology is well-suited to Japan’s growing elderly population, particularly given that 70% of those who buy landline phones in Japan are over 60 years old, a Sharp spokeswoman told ITworld.

Image of elderly man on phone courtesy of Shutterstock.