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Wednesday, 23 August, 2000, 12:55 GMT 13:55 UK
Hunt for Japanese knicker thief
Osaka
Osaka residents have been warned to be on their guard
Health officials in Japan are on the hunt for a conman who has been persuading women to surrender their underwear saying there has been an outbreak of a potentially deadly bacteria.

According to the Mainichi Daily News the man, posing as an official from an Osaka public health centre, has been calling women since May ordering them to hand over their knickers for inspection.

On each occasion the impostor claims that there has been an outbreak of the deadly 0-157 E. coli bacillus in the city.

In one early case, the paper reports, he called a housewife in the suburb of Toyonaka informing her of the potential danger.

"We're worried you might pick up something," he reportedly told the woman.

"For an inspection please take off the panties you're wearing now and put them in a plastic bag and present them to us."

Scam uncovered

According to the paper the man then told her to leave the bag containing her underwear in a park nearby for collection.

The scam was uncovered when the woman phoned the local health centre to ask for more information.

However, the paper says, the man successfully duped a local high school student last month who did as she was told and left a small parcel underneath a park bench.

The girl's mother also contacted the health centre, from whom they learnt of the con.

But by then it was too late as the parcel had already been collected.

Toyonaka health officials say they have received a steady stream of reports detailing similar incidents and plan to report the matter to the police.

"Posing as a public health official because he wants to get his hands on women's panties is nasty," one official was quoted as saying.

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