Sharp fights fraud with old-school landline phones

Glowing LEDs and automated recording could help reduce phone fraud, which is on the rise

Sharp's UX-AF90CL fax phone blinks red when it gets calls from an unidentified or unknown caller. It's designed to fight phone fraud targeting elderly people in Japan.

Sharp's UX-AF90CL fax phone blinks red when it gets calls from an unidentified or unknown caller. It's designed to fight phone fraud targeting elderly people in Japan.

Be it telegrams or feature phones, Japan can't bear to part with yesterday's technology.

Now Sharp is launching a pair of old-school landline phones designed to counter a growing form of fraud in Japan that preys upon elderly Japanese.

The "ore ore" ("it's me, it's me") fraud involves scammers who try to trick seniors into handing over money by calling them up and pretending to be their grandchildren in an emergency and requiring money. Victims are typically convinced to send money via ATM.

While it may be difficult to imagine being fooled by such a ruse, it has proven very lucrative, netting criminals ¥17.4 billion (US$146 million) in 2014, up from ¥14.5 billion in 2007, according to National Police Agency data.

Sharp's new UX-AF90CL fax phone, launching Friday, and JD-AT80CL landline cordless phone, out March 13, are designed to alert seniors to the dangers of unknown callers. When they receive calls from numbers that are not registered in the phone's internal memory, their LED bars glow red and the phones go into anti-scam mode.

An automated message then tells the caller that the call is being recorded and asks for the caller to state his or her name before the call is answered. Sharp believes that the threat of recording will scare off many fraudsters.

Users can easily register or block callers at the push of a button. When a registered caller phones again, the LED bar glows green. The phones can be set to reject calls from anonymous callers, and play audio warnings to users to beware of scammers and seek help if they suspect fraud.

Japan has a rapidly aging population, and demographic trends suggest roughly 40 percent of Japanese will be 65 years old or over by 2040. Meanwhile, about 70 percent of people in Japan who buy landline phones are over 60 and most phone scams target those kinds of phones, a Sharp spokeswoman said.

Retailing for around ¥30,000, the fax phone reflects the continuing popularity of home fax machines, a commonly seen product in Japan's electronics stores. The cordless phone will sell for around ¥16,000.

Tim Hornyak covers Japan and emerging technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Tim on Twitter at @robotopia.

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