A new wave of theft has hit the used-car import market as tricksters emerge in Japan to cash in on a booming electronic trade to steal from unsuspecting bargain hunters.
Kenya’s embassy in Tokyo has issued a fresh alert — the second one this year and sixth one since 2012 — advising importers placing online orders to deal only with registered shipping agents.
“This is to kindly inform Kenyans that fraud in the importation of motor vehicles from Japan is apparently once again on the rise,” the Embassy says in the latest alert.
“The Embassy is overwhelmed by messages from prospective Kenyan importers requesting verification of genuineness of companies or agents exporting vehicles from Japan before entering into transactions.”
The embassy wants buyers to direct the import enquiries to the Japan Used Motor Vehicles Exporters Association (Jumvea), a lobby with which it has been working to curb car import fraud.
Jumvea has similarly posted a warning on its website asking importers to confirm registration status of agents before making payment.
The lobby says fraudsters frequently offer low prices as a bait. It has committed to take stern disciplinary action should any of its members be found to have colluded with the cartel.
The Kenyan Embassy has resorted to posting such alerts after its bid to get Japanese regulatory authorities to intervene failed to bear fruit.
Under Japanese law, car import fraud is not regarded as a criminal offence that attracts the interest of the State.
“Such cases are considered as civil offences under Japanese law, which, in essence, will require one to engage a legal firm to institute legal proceedings,” the embassy says in a notice.
To prosecute a civil case, the victim has to hire a lawyer in Japan. Importers say prohibitive legal fees — which in most cases are higher than the car value — has discouraged most of them from seeking justice.
They have also pointed out that fraudsters are able to withdraw money sent by victims only in one transaction before changing their identities since ATMs in Japan allow bank customers to withdraw up to Sh1 million in one go.
To distinguish themselves from the phony firms, most agents give advisory to ensure prospective buyers do not fall victims to the theft syndicate.
An alert published on the Japancartrade.com website, for instance, warns buyers of fraudsters in this business “but there are also a handful of legitimate and trustworthy exporters.”
According to the site, online importers must insist on multiple photos of vehicles from the prospective exporter. “Photos from a decent company will have consistency— the background should be the same generally for shots taken on the same yard,” the alert says.
It adds: “If you are unsure of the company, ask for more photos and be specific on the angles.
For example, zoom in on the Stereo and the CD changer, Zoom in on the Chassis Number, show a picture of the exact mileage on the odometer etc. Ask to see something not important at all like photos of the door handles.
If the company does not get back to you very fast with these requested photos, there is a good chance they simply do not own the vehicle.”