[Viewpoint] Wrinkled face of crime

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[Viewpoint] Wrinkled face of crime

This is not a story for the next movie in the Danny Ocean series, where the “professionals,” led by actor George Clooney, get together to rob a casino or a museum.

This story’s characters are too old for us to share the thrill. It is a real-life crime. This is the story of gambling fraud by a group of grandfathers.

According to the Ulsan Southern Police, the group of mostly elderly men visited a karaoke bar in daytime and asked the owner to rent them a room. “We will give you a generous rental fee, so let us play hwatu, [Korean flower cards].”

Because the rooms were usually empty during daytime, the owner allowed the gentlemen to play cards. They sometimes asked the owner to exchange their checks for cash, and gave him a 10 percent commission.

After baiting the owner with the free money for days, the grandfathers asked the owner to briefly lend them 20 million won, saying that they did not bring their checks that day. Then they absconded with the money.

The ploy seemed familiar. Police soon found that the group had pocketed about 650 million won around the country using the same modus operandi. Their alleged crimes took place in Ulsan, Seoul, Busan and Gangwon.

What caught my eye were the ages of the 15 men. According to Jeong Jong-su of the Ulsan Southern Police, the investigation team leader, the eldest suspect was 80 years old.

Five suspects were in their 70s, four were in their 60s and four were in their 50s. The youngest one was 44 years old, Jeong said. The average age of the men was 64. One suspect had a 30-count criminal history.

It’s not just elderly men who commit crimes. In July of last year, some grandmotherly pickpockets were arrested.

The four-member “Bongnampa” pickpocket group was led by a 70-year-old woman with a 24-count criminal record and a 67-year-old woman with 20 previous convictions. The average age of the group was 60.5. They frequented department stores and markets in Seoul and Gyeonggi and ripped open handbags with razor blades to steal wallets.

Perhaps the most brutal crimes committed by an elderly man was the so-called Old Man and the Sea serial killings. Two years ago, a 70-year-old fisherman from Boseong, South Jeolla, was arrested on charges of killing four young people as he attempted to assault them sexually in separate incidents.

He confessed to killing his victims by pushing them out of his boat and leaving them to drown.

Korea is a rapidly aging society, so the number of crimes committed by the elderly will grow. That is the reality.

I think the grandfather scammers and grandmother pickpockets should not be treated lightly. Their crimes are a warning sign of what will soon happen.

The baby-boom generation of Korea was born between 1955 and 1963. They are between 46 to 54 years old and comprise about 14.7 percent of Korea’s population, or some 7.145 million people. As they age, there will be changes in the country’s production, consumption, housing and medical care situation. Crime is also a part of the change.

Japan became an aging society before Korea, and it provides a possible glimpse of what Korea’s future will be. In Japan’s 2008 Crime White Paper, the number of crimes committed by people aged over 65 increased to a level five times greater than 20 years before. The number, of course, excluded the number of traffic accident offenders, because the accidents are involuntary.

In that period, the elderly population only doubled, but the crimes committed by them skyrocketed.

Why is that? The White Paper cited their feeling of social isolation and economic instability.

Korea is no better. According to Jang Joon-oh of the Korean Institute of Criminology, the total number of criminals between 1996 and 2006 did not change much, but crimes committed by people older than 61 more than doubled.

Social isolation and economic poverty often go together. According to the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs, one out of five elderly in Korea is a loner, having no family or friends to see.

The tendency of being isolated from family and relatives grows more severe for lower-income people.

Furthermore, Korea’s baby-boom generation is the first generation known to do their best for their parents while being deserted by their own children.

Of course, there will be nothing better for Korea’s future if the more than 7 million-strong baby-boom generation grows old as angels.

The writer is an editorial writer and a senior reporter on cultural news of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Noh Jae-hyun
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