• 12 . 06 . 04
  • Your signature is no good here. No, we demand you use a rubber stamp to prove your identity!

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Identity Theft

I’m not sure how big a problem this is in Japan, but the potential is huge. Identity validation is made using one’s hanko, a small rubber stamp of your name (or some representation of it) that can be bought in many high street shops. For accessing one’s bank account information, collecting parcels and other tasks where there might be some potentially sensitive information, the hanko is all that is needed to verify your identity. Apparently a signature isn’t unique enough to prove your identity in Japan, but a readily available easily mimicked rubber stamp is… It’s so at odds with western society that we even say “Rubber Stamp” to mean “Give approval without thoroughly checking”.

As a gaijin it’s incredibly easy to impersonate another gaijin, because they don’t even bother to question your identity. As long as the name is foreign and you have the correct hanko, they assume you are the right person. While this is useful in having friends pick up parcels and whatnot, it is worryingly easy to do. If you don’t have your hanko, you have to sign by giving your thumbprint. (This by the way is why I was fingerprinted yesterday – sorry to disappoint you!) While this is unique it seems pointless as (to the best of my knowledge at least!) my fingerprints aren’t on file anywhere, so there’s nothing to compare it to…

Once again, the only thing preventing this system from failing outright is the general honesty and optimism of the Japanese people. In England, where they have started lasering your photo onto your bank card, such a system could never work.

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