New wave of blessing scams hits SF Chinese community

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco police and the district attorney's office are warning the Chinese-American community about a new wave of so-called blessing scams, thieves stealing money by promising to ward off evil spirits.

Many of the women who spoke to ABC7 News in Chinatown Thursday said they are already on guard. They were shown a reenactment video by the San Francisco Police Department.

In the video, thieves convince their victim she's possessed by evil spirits, but they can cure her by purifying her valuables. She gives them her money and jewelry. Thieves switch bags behind her back. The victim goes home and finds her valuables are gone.

"In the two cases reported to police, over $100,000 in cash and valuables were taken from members of the community," San Francisco police Cpt. David Lazar said.

More than a hundred Chinatown residents showed up at Portsmouth Square Thursday to hear the latest on the blessing scams and to get grocery bags and brochures with warnings and phone numbers to call.

Police and the district attorney's office held a similar event a couple of years ago when elderly Chinese women were being swindled of cash and jewelry.

"We had about 47 reported cases," San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said. "We had over a million dollars in property, which was stolen here in San Francisco."

A gang of four Chinese nationals were responsible for many of those thefts. With their arrests, the fraudulent schemes seemed to stop.

But now, new cases have surfaced and so far $180,000 dollars have been stolen. Police Chief Greg Suhr says the scams are cyclical.

"Every couple of years, groups come over from China and they try to make hay out of this blessing thing and folks that are superstitious play into it," Suhr said.

In the latest case, this suspect Xue Fang Zhou was arrested as she was as about to board a flight out of New York to China.

San Francisco police had circulated her photo at airports around the country. At least two of her accomplices are still at large.

In all, 2,500 bags were distributed in different parts of Chinatown Thursday. Authorities said they hope this message works.
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