Over 40 scammed at Chinatown travel agency

October 3, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
San Francisco Police say they have become overwhelmed with reports in Chinatown from residents who say they're the victims of a travel agency scam. It may be the biggest scam to hit Chinatown in recent memory.

Almost all of the victims are elderly Chinese who dipped into their savings to go to China. ABC7 met some of them at the Golden Hill Travel Agency, now abandoned by its owner, Xiao Yuan Cai.

Anna Tong paid in advance for her parents' trip to China which she says Cai absconded with her $3,000.

"I came here on Monday, I came to this office and it was empty, so I couldn't get my money back," said Tong.

Everyone had a similar story.

"No reservation. No payment was done, but this is the receipt that she received my money in full," said another victim.

An elderly man said he paid more than $20,000 for tickets to China for members of his family association.

"What he got instead was just an itinerary, instead of tickets," said Sgt. Bobby Cheung of the San Francisco Police Fraud Unit.

Kimmy Yam bought tickets to Hong Kong to attend a wedding. She got what she thought were e-tickets.

"I called the airline and then they said they don't have my name on it," said Yam.

Sgt. Cheung says he's already received police reports from 40 to 50 people. A few women ABC7 spoke with said they filed police reports as early as May.

"No one responded. No one did anything," said another victim.

Cheung explains the fraud unit is understaffed and overworked. The number of fraud inspectors has been cut from 19 four years ago, to just six today, and the case backlog is now up to eight months.

"Once the inspector finishes one case, he or she can pick up another case, so this one was probably just waiting," said Cheung.

In the middle of ABC7's interview, Kimmy Yam got a hold of Cai on her cell phone.

"She said, 'I will return the money to you... later. You wait for my call.' That's what she said," said Yam.

When ABC7's Vic Lee tried calling Cai, he was forwarded to an automated voice messaging system.

Police believe Cai may still be in Chinatown and in fact, may be doing business in another location. On top of the 40 to 50 already filed police reports, the police department expects many, many more.

To accommodate all of the incoming reports, Chinese-speaking officers will be on hand at the Central Police Station in North Beach on October 11, 15, and 16th from 8:30 a.m. - 2 p.m. to help them file police reports.


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