It is such a cruel crime, and it is costing people a fortune. Hundreds gathered in Chinatown Wednesday, worried that they too could be taken. ABC7 News spoke exclusively with a woman who helped police arrest one group of alleged thieves.
So far, more than 50 Chinese seniors have been victimized in San Francisco alone. In all, the thieves have stolen $1.5 million. The DA's office says only one of them ever got her money back. That was thanks to another victim, a woman who had the guts to go to police.
"Our community has been suffering for the last year and a half from an activity we're calling 'blessing scams,'" Gascon said.
Hundreds attended a public awareness rally in Chinatown to learn how to protect themselves against the thieves.
On Wednesday morning, DA Gascon met privately with a woman who almost became a victim. Instead, Susan Wong became a hero.
It was in October at the farmers market on Alemany Boulevard, where three women approached Wong and befriended her.
"Number two also says to me 'it would be very nice for you to have a new friend,'" Wong said through a translator.
She says they were nice to her. They chatted, exchanging information about their families. One of them seemed to be clairvoyant.
"Number three told me that there's going to be calamity in my household," Wong said. "Your son is going to die in three days and then my husband is going to get really ill. They also told me and scared me that a ghost followed me home and the ghost wants to marry my son."
But the three women told Wong this was her lucky day, that they could scare her evil spirits away by blessing her valuables.
"They asked me to bring as many valuables as possible," Wong said. "The more valuables that I bring, the better off my family's going to be."
Wong went home, ready to go to the bank and meet the women in the afternoon. Instead, she went to Ingleside Police Station.
She recalled reading about the "blessing scam" and watching a police public service spot about it on TV. The PSA reenacted how the thieves worked. She realized it was happening to her.
Undercover officers went back with her to the farmers market. Once Wong identified the women, the officers followed them and actually saw them working on another victim.
This victim had already turned over $47,000 in cash to the thieves. The money was photocopied for evidence by a police investigator before it was returned to the victim.
The three thieves were arrested. They and a male conspirator were recently convicted for grand theft.
The DA calls Wong a hero, "She took the initiative to go to police," Gascon said.
When we told her she was a hero, Wong answered, "Ah, no, come on!"
Even though Wong may not think she's a hero, police and prosecutors certainly do. She says that as a citizen, she was just doing the right thing.
DA Gascon says this was the first successful prosecution of a blessing fraud case in the country. The four alleged thieves will be sentenced on Friday.