Under-30s make up more than 60% of suspects in $25m COVID grant fraud: Japanese police

The entrance to the No. 2 Central Government Building, which houses the National Police Agency, is seen in this file photo taken in Tokyo in 2019. (Mainichi/Kazuo Motohashi)

TOKYO — More than 60% of the 3,770 suspects in fraud cases exploiting a Japanese government COVID-19 grant program that police arrested or reported to prosecutors in late May 2022 were under 30, according to data from the National Police Agency (NPA).

According to the NPA, police nationwide detected 3,315 cases of suspected fraud targeting a government subsidy to businesses hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic between July 2020 and May 2022, with illegally obtained payments totaling some 3.29 billion yen. (about $24.5 million).

Broken down by age group, about 2,300 suspects, or 62%, of those arrested or whose cases were passed on to prosecutors were in their twenties. Thirty-somethings made up 14%, representing some 500 suspects. About 200 of them, or 6%, were between the ages of 10 and 19. In total, approximately 80% of grant fraud suspects were 39 years of age or younger. Overall, the average age of the suspects was around 30 years old.

In addition, people in their 40s made up 8% of suspects, people in their 50s 5%, people in their 60s 3%, and people between the ages of 70 and 89 made up 1% of suspects.

The agency said the suspects included students who brought their junior and senior high school classmates into the scams. In some cases, social media was used to provide instructions on how to apply for the grants.

While the ringleaders in the grant fraud cases came from a variety of backgrounds, they included government officials such as a tax office employee and a local government employee, as well as licensed financial professionals, including a tax accountant and an administrative scrutineer. A crime syndicate heavyweight and gang member, as well as a student were also among the suspected ringleaders.

(Japanese original by Naritake Machida, Tokyo City News Department)

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