FBI investigating scams targeting Asian women


July 27, 2012 7:18:36 PM PDT
The FBI has now joined the investigation by San Francisco police into a widening scam targeting elderly Asian women. It's a scam getting more bizarre by the day. Since three women from Hong Kong were arrested in May and charged with bilking their victims out of a million dollars in cash and jewelry, there have been almost a dozen new victims and new suspects and the scams are now also taking place in Daly City and Oakland.

"So far, the loss is $240,000 in cash. In jewelry, it's close to $90,000," Lt. Art Stellini told ABC7 News. He also says the 11 new victims are also elderly Chinese women. As the re-enactment in a police public service video shows, the thieves convince their victim that she's possessed by evil spirits. They say they can cure her by purifying her valuables. The woman gives up her money and jewelry. The thief then pretends to pray over it while switching bags behind her back. When the victim does check the bag, she finds her valuables are gone.

Stellini says this new ring of thieves' M.O. has a bizarre twist. "They feel like they might have been drugged in some manner or put under some type of spell," he says. In most of the recent cases, Stellini says one of the thieves holds the victim's hand and applies pressure on parts of it, much like an acupuncture treatment.

"Probably, that person knows how to use the energy work," says acupuncturist Yuko Gower. She says the thieves are probably using the person's field of energy to calm them into a trusting, compliant mood. She says that combined with reassuring words and a caring demeanor, the thief might convince the victim she's her friend. "There are lots of great acupuncture points to utilize to make people calm," she says

With regard to leads, all police will say is that they have some good ones. They hope that with the help of the FBI, investigators hope they can make even better headway in solving what they call this "despicable" crime. "For some, it's lifesavings. It's a difference of what're you going to eat for dinner or how you're going to pay your rent," Stellini says.

To give you an idea of what kind of money we're talking about, one woman lost $91,000 and all her jewelry. Another woman lost $80,000 in cash. Stellini believes this is an organized crime ring from Asia which comes to the Bay Area for a period of time and then goes back home.