SAN FRANCISCO—San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon spoke at a senior center in Chinatown on Friday, February 12, to discuss a popular “blessing scam” that has commonly appeared around the Lunar New Year.

According to Gascon, scammers approach victims, suggesting they will remove evil spirits and curses by chanting over the victim’s jewelry and cash. The scammers then request that the items be placed in a sack, which is then switched out with a separate bag.

Gascon warned Chinatown community members “Do not give up your valuables, and don’t tell a stranger your Social Security number.” Gascon also sent out a press release to warn Chinese women of scammers who target them by trying to befriend them before asking them to put their whole life savings in a bag for them to bless.

Reports indicate that common cases have involved scammers approaching a middle-aged or elderly Chinese women to ask the victim if they know of a particular doctor. Another scammer then poses as a relative of the doctor and will tell the victim that a ghost has followed her home and that she or a family member is in danger (usually a spouse, child, or grandchild).

Victims who fall for the scammer’s story generally begin fearing harm will happen to their family members. They are then told by the victim the only way to protect her family is to perform a “blessing ritual.” According to the report, victims are then instructed to put cash, “usually their life savings,” and jewelry in a bag and meet the scammers at a designated location. Scammers then pretend to perform a blessing, but switch the bags when the victim isn’t looking. The victim is then instructed not to open the bag for any time ranging from days to months, and to not tell anyone about the blessing ritual.

Gascon identified most victims to be middle aged to elderly women who are spotted while walking alone in busy shopping areas. Areas listed to be popular locations for scammers include: Chinatown, Sunset District (Clement Street), Richmond District (Irving Street) and Visitation Valley District (San Bruno Avenue). Scammers are generally said to be Chinese speakers, primarily Cantonese, and travel in groups of three, but approach each victim separately so they can “strategically corner their targets.” Scammers have been women, but on occasion they have had one man with them.

According to the San Francisco District Attorney’s site, over $1.5 million in cash and jewelry has been stolen from over 50 victims, reported to be between the ages of 40-80 in San Francisco. Gascon advises all people who are approached by potential scammers to leave immediately and call the District Attorney’s office at (415) 551-9597 or 9-1-1 if urgent assistance is needed.