Photo/IllutrationConfiscated fake credit cards used by Malaysians are shown in Fukuoka. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Crime rings in Malaysia are thought to be behind a wave of fraud cases in Japan involving counterfeit credit cards.

Malaysians use fake cards to purchase brand-name goods, which are apparently resold for a profit once the "buyer" returns home.

In October, police arrested three Malaysians ranging in age from 18 to 21 in Fukuoka after one of them attempted to use a counterfeit credit card to purchase a wristwatch priced at 1.15 million yen ($10,500).

The suspects were later rearrested after police found 23 fake cards in their possession.

“A man I owe money to told me to purchase luxury wristwatches and brand-name bags in Japan,” investigative sources quoted one suspect as saying.

In November, a 22-year-old Malaysian man was arrested on suspicion of attempted fraud after he tried to purchase three bags priced at 700,000 yen with a counterfeit card at a department store near Nagoya Station.

Osaka prefectural police busted 10 individuals on suspicion of smuggling 128 counterfeit cards into Japan between February and March 2017.

Hokkaido prefectural police last March arrested two people with 100 fake cards on them.

Investigative sources said a single organized criminal syndicate could be behind all the cases.

According to Aichi prefectural police, more than 200 overseas visitors, mostly Chinese-Malaysians, have been arrested in similar instances nationwide since March 2016.

Given the difficulty of arresting the brains behind the rackets in Malaysia, even if their identities are known, all prefectural police departments can do is to provide information to Malaysian authorities through the National Police Agency, sources said.

“We have no choice but to arrest the 'buyers' one at a time during their visits to Japan,” said a senior Fukuoka prefectural police official.

Japan's decision in July 2013 to allow Malaysian tourists to enter the country without a short-term visa has made it "easier for crime organizations to send in buyers,” said a senior police official involved in counterfeit card investigations.

Another key reason seems to be that smart card readers are not yet widely introduced in Japanese shops and stores, even though that type of credit card is more difficult to forge than magnetic ones.

A survey by a leading credit card company between late 2016 and early 2017 found that the ratio of payments based on smart cards was only 17 percent in Japan, while the figures for the United States and Europe were 47 percent and 99 percent, respectively.

Users of magnetic cards are more often victimized by scammers using skimming and other techniques.

The three Malaysians arrested in Fukuoka had fake magnetic cards.