By Diana Lee
December 28, 2005
As the Japanese economy struggles with its ups and downs, household savings have been shrinking while companies and financial institutions have watched their short-lived gains disappeared into oblivion. Out of the economic blues, the businesses that make a killing usually embraced the shady and unethical practices of either victimizing or assisting the ones that are vulnerable and desperate in society. The loan sharks, cyber services and detective agencies have been multiplying and reaping in profits in the last few years.
According to the National Police Agency, despite the money-lending law enacted in July that carries stiffer penalties for illegal lending, a record 322,000 people fell prey to loan sharks in 2003, more than twice that of 2002. The amount of damage from illegal lending totaled ¥32.24 billion in 2003.
With ballooning debts under a previous loan guaranteed by a friend or a family member, the typical borrower, feeling trapped and depressed, often turned to a loan shark in secrecy. The high-interest rate lenders have been able to capitalize on the shame and fear of these borrowers as they exert exorbitant interest rates and unscrupulous tactics to recover the loans.
Worse still, the troubled financial institutions continue the unfair treatment of small-business owners by seizing their properties and their guarantors' assets while forgiving big corporate customers' runaway debts. As a result, personal bankruptcies last year stood at 214,634 cases, up 500% in 10 years. Sadly, escape routes for the ruined borrower frequently led to a disappearing act or even worse, to a suicide so that his dependents could collect hefty insurance money. With about 30,000 suicides a year, Japan remains as one of the countries with the highest suicide rate in the world.
As computers become more widespread in use, cyber crimes have been on the rise. Just the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department alone received 41,154 complaints related to Internet fraud, more than double the number reported the previous year. Internet-related fraud ranked as the largest category involving complaints about inaccurate charges for the use of paid Internet sites and computer network crimes.
The number of cases involving juvenile prostitution in the guise of online dating services has finally prompted the government this year to monitor the contents of chat services and bulletin boards soliciting companions. Due to the ease of access by mobile phones and the anonymity provided to users, Internet dating sites have turned into a booming trend for the young and the lonely hearts. An estimated 10,000 of such sites exist, conspicuously promoted by advertisements plastered on utility poles and on bulletin boards in heavy human traffic locations.
In addition, private cyber sleuthing has found a niche in the Internet market as a way to procure evidence for the use in civil law suits. Cyber sleuthing, ranging from ¥50,000 to ¥100,000 per case, generally falls under four types:
Although cyber sleuthing in Japan is still far behind some countries, nevertheless, it has gained momentum in a nation with increasing cyber crimes.
Another sordid business seems to thrive in present society - the private detective agency. The National Investigators Association of Japan (NIAJ) estimates that there are now more than 10,000 detective agencies operating in the country. Without a national licensing system for private investigators, anyone can work as a private eye. Many people, who lost their jobs after the collapse of the bubble economy in the late 1990s, have found the lifestyle of an amateur snoop rewarding with daily challenges and paid expenses.
Unlike the police who seldom get involved in family affairs, the detective agencies pride themselves in resolving personal problems, sometimes through unethical means. When a family wrought with worry over a missing member, when parents filled with suspicion about their teenage daughter's ill-gotten wealth, or when a spouse looking to substantiate her/his mate's infidelity, they enlist private detective agencies for discrete solutions to their problems.
With the ongoing economic deterioration, the huge debt burden forces many desperate souls to abandon their families as they flee from the police or the "muscle men" of loan sharks. It has been said that many loan sharks are linked to the notorious yakuza, the organization of Japanese gangsters. To track the footsteps of a missing person demands skill in sleuthing but to convince that individual to return requires a bit of psychology and the art of persuasion.
Living in a materialistic society, some Japanese teenagers seem to worship money. The detective agencies have reported many cases of tracking down teenage girls in love hotels as they prostituted themselves for material gains. As shocking as it may seem, the young believe that having brand goods outweighs losing dignity or self-respect. Unfortunately, the online dating services immorally cater to their customers' desires, even with the knowledge that they're breaking the law in promoting juvenile prostitution.
With an upsurge in divorce rate, Japan can no longer boast of its strong family tradition. Surprisingly, one-third of marriages end up in divorce nowadays. The detective agencies spend a good portion of their investigations in catching cheating spouses in the act. Most of their clients are ordinary housewives who are willing to pay a fortune to get evidence on their husbands' infidelity for a divorce settlement. In a divorce case, the court grants the wife only a lump sum for a divorce settlement, leaving the assets and the rest of financial holdings to the husband. In reality, the Japanese law doesn't favor the wife, unless she presents proof of her husband's wrongdoing.
More recently, the break-up specialists have evolved into something sinister: revenge specialists. The goal of the revenge specialists is not only to teach the unfaithful a lesson by breaking his/her heart but also to leave the philanderer in complete ruin - emotionally and financially.
The Japan Investigative Industry Association has barred detectives from joining in the break-up specialist business after a spate of complaints on questionable maneuvers bordering on intimidation, extortion, and blackmail. The Japanese government is set to introduce a new privacy law, which will have immediate impact on the detective business next year.
As long as fear and mistrust persist in Japan, businesses will continue to flourish for the "undesirable ones" who shrewdly rake in money from the "miserable ones" in a society stricken with economic woes.
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