Earlier this month, a woman in the Sunset lost $5,000 in a so-called "blessings scam" that targets the Chinese-speaking community. Now, police are urging the community to be on its guard against strangers claiming to provide relief from a curse or an illness in exchange for large amounts of money.
Many of the blessings scams—largely seen in Chinatown and the Sunset—follow similar scripts and often involve multiple suspects. In 2012 alone, local victims were estimated to have lost $1.5 million.
In the Sunset incident on July 11th, three suspects were involved. First, an Asian female approached the victim, asking for directions to a healing salon. A second suspect, an Asian male, then approached the two, pretending to overhear the request as he walked past, offering to use his smartphone to find the salon.
The male suspect persuaded the victim to walk to a nearby car, where a third suspect, an older Asian male, awaited. The three suspects persuaded the victim that she had cancer, and to cure the illness, she gave the suspects $5,000.
According to SFPD, the suspects promised to return some of the money later that day, but did not do so.
A similar incident took place in Chinatown in August 2016, where a victim lost $40,000.
The scam, which first originated in China and Hong Kong, specifically targets elderly Chinese women, who often do not have strong English skills and are reluctant to go to the police once the scam is unveiled. According to a detailed 2013 SF Weekly article, suspects usually bond with the victims over a shared language, Cantonese, and cultural beliefs.
In this public service video, SFPD provides a reenactment of the scam in Cantonese to help the community identify potential scammers, how it works, and how to report it.
Police also strongly recommend that anyone who is approached by scammers contact them. Reports can be made at any station, or by calling dispatch at 415-553-0123 and requesting a report.
Resources are also available for Cantonese speakers, who can call a special tip line at 415-553-9212 or 855-737-3847. Those who wish to remain anonymous can also use the anonymous tip line at 415-575-4444 or via Text a Tip by texting a message to TIP411 and beginning the message with "SFPD."
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