Photo/IllutrationA letter from Kazuya Harada, president of a health products company, explains that the return of money invested would take time. (Chihiro Ara)

Six people were arrested Nov. 15 over a scam that Tokyo police suspect may have netted the group nearly 6 billion yen ($52.8 million) from senior citizens hoping to capitalize on their life savings.

Among those arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department were Kazuya Harada, 63, president of Royal Foods Inc., a Tokyo-based wholesaler of health products.

Police are also looking for two other individuals in connection with the enterprise.

Police said eight elderly Tokyo residents initially targeted by the group were bilked out of 180 million yen. However, investors said the final figure could be in the billions of yen and the number of victims in excess of 1,000.

According to sources close to the investigation, Harada and his co-conspirators convinced the eight Tokyo metropolitan area residents to invest in various ventures ranging from imported wine and cosmetics between December 2013 and October 2014. The investors were promised returns of 12 percent interest after two years.

A woman in her 70s explained that the group gradually moved from sales of soy sauce and dried seaweed to supposedly more expensive investment opportunities.

She told The Asahi Shimbun that she received a flier in her mailbox a few years ago that advertised a three-day sale in which soy sauce would be sold for 100 yen a bottle.

She went with friends to a temporary retail outlet set up by the group near a train station. The other potential investors were of a similar age.

Initially, the group focused on sales of food and daily necessities, but gradually moved to health foods and supplements.

Company employees would give lectures at so-called study sessions in which they explained the effectiveness of the supplements in helping to improve health and overcome illness.

The woman explained, "Everyone had concerns about their health because we were all elderly. Best of all, the atmosphere of the study sessions and the lectures given by the employees were helpful."

The woman had already retired and had time on her hands, so the chance to wear finer clothing and makeup for an outing, if even to the station, added spice to her daily life, she said.

However, after about a month, the employees began talking about new investment opportunities with a 12-percent return, much higher than what banks offer.

Believing her money was safe, the woman eventually invested 1 million yen, even though she was never told what the funds would be used for or the risks involved.

That led to almost daily sales pitches by phone to her home for other investment plans. She finally gave in and invested another 1 million yen.

When the time came to cash in, all the woman received was a letter signed by Harada giving all sorts of excuses for why the money was not available. Eventually, she was unable to even contact the company to make inquiries.

The woman is still reeling from her financial loss and said she has not yet summoned up the courage to tell her children of her misfortune.