SAN FRANCISCO—A female suspect has pled guilty to felony charges after allegedly defrauding two elderly women out of $96,000 in cash and jewelry in a “Chinese blessing” scam, according to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.
District Attorney George Gascon said elderly Chinese women tend to be victims of those type of crimes.
“They were giving up their life savings sometimes,” Gascon told KTVU news.
Xuefang Zhou, 62, pleaded guilty to six felony charges including conspiracy to commit grand theft, extortion, and financial elder abuse. If convicted, Zhou could face up to 4 years in federal prison.
Zhou was charged in connection with two incidents from October 2015. Zhou and another suspect allegedly persuaded two elderly women their children would die soon unless they allowed the suspects to bless their cash and jewelry.
The victims were approached by Zhou and her unidentified compliances speaking Cantonese. The first suspects ask the victim if she knows a local doctor, because a family member has fallen ill. Once the victim feels comfortable, a second suspect joins the conversation and claims to know the location of a local doctor. Then persuades the victim to visit the doctor.
Then a third suspect masquerades as a fortune teller and forewarns the victim a loved one will be curse, suffer misfortune, or died unless the fortune teller can “bless” the victim’s valuables.
Zhou and her accomplices convinced their victims to bring their valuables to a nearby street where the “blessing” was performed, authorities said.
The victims were told to close their eyes while the suspects perform the “blessing”. Then the suspects swap the victim’s possessions with worthless items through sleight of hand. The victims are warned not open their bag for a distinct period of time, or “blessing” would not work.
The first reported case happened in the Richmond District July 2016, and was followed by two more incidents in the Central District on August 5 and August 8. Another incident occurred in the Richmond District on August 9.
There are 50 known victims in San Francisco who have lost more than $1.5 million during these “blessings”, the District Attorney’s office said.
Zhou was charged for a similar crime in New York in 2014. She also has outstanding felony warrants from Los Angeles, according to court officials.
Gascon said his office has been working to reduce the amount of blessing scams through outreach and collaboration with other agencies around the country.
“The fact that elderly Chinese woman are being targeted in light of their commonly held beliefs pains me greatly,” Gascon said in a statement.
The SFPD ask anyone who’s fallen victim to the “blessing” scam report it to authorities. A Cantonese tip line was established for those who want to provide information. The Cantonese Tip Line is (415) 553-9212.