If you're a woman living in Japan, and a man calls you from a public health center, demanding that you give him a plastic bag filled with your underwear, be advised that he may not be who he claims.
Since May of this year, a con-man panty thief has baffled Japanese authorities, according to the Mainichi Daily News. In each instance, the undergarment aficionado's M.O. is the same. He calls a woman, posing as an official from a public health center in Osaka, and warns her of a deadly outbreak of E. coli bacillus in her area. For the sake of science, and no doubt the health of the entire nation, the woman is ordered to immediately give up her underwear for inspection.
His methods were discovered after he contacted a housewife in the suburb of Toyonaka. She called her local health center to ask for more information, and learned that not only is there no dangerous outbreak of E. coli, there is no emergency underwear confiscation program in progress.
According to the woman, the caller said, "We're worried you might pick up something. For an inspection please take off the panties you're wearing now and put them in a plastic bag and present them to us." The caller then asked her to leave the bag of underwear in a nearby park, where it would be collected.
His system did fool a high school student last month, who followed the instructions and left an underwear package underneath a park bench. The girl's mother then asked the health center about the bizarre request, but by then it was too late -- the panties parcel had already been taken.
News reports do not make clear exactly how a bacteria outbreak might be analyzed from a pair of underpants, or what other kind of information could be obtained, but it's safe to say that this method exists outside the realm of conventional laboratory testing. Health centers continue to receive a steady stream of reports about the ruse. One Toyonaka official concluded in a newspaper: "Posing as a public health official because he wants to get his hands on women's panties is nasty."