The re-enactment shows two thieves approaching an elderly woman on the street. They prey on her superstitions and convince her she's possessed by evil spirits. They say she can only be cured if they purify her valuables. The victim goes home, collects her jewelry, and takes out cash from the bank. She meets one of the thieves and hands over her possessions. The thief puts them into her own bag and pretends to pray over it while switching bags behind her back.
"They tell the elderly people not to look in the bag for two weeks or so and not to tell any of their family members," explained SFPD Capt. Garret Tom. When the victim does check the bag, she finds that her jewelry and cash are gone. "Between January and May, we had approximately 30 cases in the city of San Francisco and the loss was approximately $1 million of cash and jewelry combined," said Gordon Shyy with SFPD Public Affairs.
In Mid-May, San Francisco police arrested three Cantonese-speaking suspects as they were about to board a plane at SFO to Hong Kong. Police say they later learned they had also been targeting elderly Chinese women in New York and Boston. Even with the arrests, it appears the scam has surfaced again in San Francisco's Chinatown. In the past two weeks, there have been five reported incidents with the same M.O. That's why police produced the video, to warn vulnerable Chinese women that they too could become victims.
Annie Chung runs an agency that services elderly Chinese residents. She says many are superstitious. "I think they just believe to bring themselves and their families good karma or better karma, they better have this gang bless their money, cash and jewelry," she said.
Police will ask banks primarily servicing Chinese clients to show it on their TV monitors. "If they can show this video to people who cannot read or may not have a television at home, or don't know how to use a computer," Tom said. They got the video Wednesday night. Tom said he and his officers will begin distributing the DVD on Friday.