AKITA–The recent fraud case involving five people from Sapporo who allegedly cheated social insurance offices of disability allowances apparently has shown that doctors who examined them were easily tricked into believing the suspects were suffering from depression.
Despite the need for a diagnosis from a psychiatrist when applying for sickness benefit payments, two men, who earlier were questioned by police in connection with the scam, told The Yomiuri Shimbun that “it was extremely easy to get hold of [the money].”
At a clinic in downtown Sapporo, a young man, is said to have told a psychiatrist: “I’m on leave from work. I can’t sleep and I don’t want to go back to work.”
“That’s terrible,” the doctor reportedly said as he recorded the symptoms in the patient’s clinical record card. “Take some medicine and see how things go.”
The doctor prescribed tranquilizers and sleeping pills for the man and the whole consultation took less than 15 minutes.
Two weeks later, the same man returned and asked the doctor to fill in a sickness benefit payment application form for him. The psychiatrist wrote on the application form: “The patient displays symptoms of depression that make it difficult for him to go to work.”
About one month later, the Hokkaido Regional Social Insurance Bureau transferred sickness benefit payments worth about 200,000 yen to the man’s bank account.
During the summer of 2006, this man had been solicited by the leader of the scam group, Tsuyoshi Sano, 41, who headed Aqua, a Sapporo-based company that imports and sells precious metals. At the time, the young man had no stable job and had trouble making ends meet.
“Big hospitals don’t want to fill in the [sickness benefit payment] application forms,” Sano, who has been indicted on charges of fraud, reportedly told the man. “Go to private hospitals instead.”
The young man targeted a clinic he found in a telephone directory. He visited the clinic for more than six months and exhibited gloomy behavior, reportedly saying there was no change in his condition. He also reportedly asked the doctor to fill in application forms for sickness benefit payments every other month. Sano pocketed half of the 5 million yen he received, he said.
The young man received more than 10 pages of documentation, written by Sano, detailing the cases and experiences of depression suffers who had received sickness benefit payments.
“Pretend to have depression. It’s fine to say nothing when you don’t know how to answer,” Sano reportedly instructed the man. “As psychological problems can only really be understood by the individual, doctors can’t contradict [the patient].”
Meanwhile, the other man questioned by the police told The Yomiuri Shimbun he cheated a regional social insurance bureau of 450,000 yen by pretending to have depression.
He said he told the doctor that he could not sleep due to anxiety and his body always felt sluggish.
“I looked like all the other patients at the clinic. Pretending was easy,” the man said.
According to the prefectural police and other sources, Sano hired about 20 part-timers, known as “freeters,” via acquaintances and Hello Work job centers. He then installed them in various positions, one of which was head of Aqua’s branch offices.
Between February 2006 and December 2008, Sano and the others allegedly swindled regional social insurance bureaus in seven prefectures, including Aomori, Akita and Tochigi, out of a total of about 55 million yen. The company was not involved in any kind of business activity, police said.
It also has been ascertained that four suspects who were appointed “branch office heads,” visited different doctors in Sapporo separately, in order not to arouse suspicion, and duped the doctors by pretending to suffer from depression.
Why were these doctors not able to see through the swindlers’ plot?
According to a doctor who runs a private practice in Sapporo: “Emotional disorders are hard to quantify. As such, it’s difficult to see through a feigned illness during a medical diagnosis.”
An official at a regional social insurance bureau also said, “We trust doctors’ diagnoses completely.”
Meanwhile, one of the two men interviewed said he had feared arrest.
“Halfway through [the crime], it became very difficult to cheat the doctor,” he said. “I felt very guilty.”