Photo/IllutrationA man claiming to be a U.S. service member sent battlefield pictures to a woman in Hiroshima Prefecture. (The Asahi Shimbun)

Hiroshima prefectural police on Feb. 4 arrested two foreign nationals, a Nigerian man and a Filipina, on suspicion of pulling off what is known as “international romance fraud” on a woman living in the prefecture.

“I love you.” “I'm coming to Japan soon.” “You are my sunshine.”

The victim received such messages daily on her social media account from a man claiming to be a U.S. service member, sometimes with attachments of battlefield snapshots.

With the aid of a translation service, the suspects kept up “online courtship” for four months, interspersing passionate professions of love with sob stories about the man’s unfortunate past and an injury suffered in combat.

The victim swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker.

When her “suitor” begged her to cover “custom clearance charges for a diamond, a booty of war” that he planned to send to Japan, she complied without hesitation.

In another case, four foreign nationals posing as servicemen and doctors were arrested last month by Fukuoka and Saitama prefectural police.

The perps allegedly told their prey of their intent to “leave military service” and “fly to Japan in a private jet.”

Thirty-five years ago, The Asahi Shimbun reported a sensational case of marriage fraud, pulled off by a man described as the ultimate master of disguise.

Claiming to be a colonel of the U.S. Air Force and a descendant of the Hawaiian royal family, he was actually Japanese. But the man successfully fooled his unsuspecting Japanese victims with his Caucasian features--courtesy of dyed blond hair and a nose job. He was apparently a consummate actor, too.

This scam inspired the 2009 Japanese film “Kuhio Taisa” (Colonel Kuhio), starring Masato Sakai in the eponymous role. Perhaps some people remember seeing it.

The story is set in Japan during the Gulf War (1990-1991).

With a radio cassette player providing sound effects of bombs going off, the “colonel” phones one of his victims, “I am setting off now to Saddam Hussein’s base on a recon mission.” He is seen getting off a car in front of a U.S. military base, way off from his home.

Apparently, scam artists work hard to refine their tradecraft. Is there something like a manual they consult? Do they practice among themselves? How many stock phrases have they amassed for wooing their prey with?

I would be extremely interested to find out.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 9

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.