Alert! New Scam Targets Elderly Asian Women

Alert! New Scam Targets Elderly Asian Women

A new type of scam targeting elder Asian women has law enforcement, advocates, Asian beneficiaries and their family members all on edge. While the common phone scams of callers pretending to be Medicare while asking beneficiaries for their Social Security and Medicare numbers continue, a new scam is on the rise.

In this scam, 1-3 young to middle age Asian women approach an elderly Asian women saying things like: “You don’t look well. You have bad karma around you.” Or, “you’ve been cursed or possessed by evil spirits. You will die and your family will become sick. We can help cure you by purifying your valuables.” They then convince their victim to put their cash and/or jewelry into a bag so they can bless it. Yet, while ‘blessing’ the valuables behind their backs, they switch the bags and give the elders one full of paper. They tell their victims not to open the bag for a few days while the prayers ‘incubate.’ When these Asian elders then open their bags, they find all their valuables are gone.

Three women from Hong Kong were arrested in May charged with stealing $1 million from their San Francisco victims in cash and jewelry. Since then, there have been almost a dozen new victims, all Chinese elderly women, and new suspects in scams spreading out to Daly City and Oakland. The San Francisco police department reports that these more recent scams amount to $240,000 lost in cash and up to $90,000 lost in jewelry.

Another disturbing twist in these scams is that many of the victims reported feeling in a daze, like they were hypnotized. Several victims reported that the scam artists held their hands or wrists at some point during their interaction. It’s possible that the scam artists may be pressing on certain acupressure points that facilitate a person having a more calm, compliant manner, thereby increasing the victim’s likelihood of following their instructions.

“This scam targets monolingual elderly Chinese women,” says Anni Chung, CEO of San Francisco non-profit, Self Help for the Elderly, “and is currently the biggest scam hurting our community.”  A total of 35 victims in the San Francisco area have stepped forward to report this crime, yet Chung knows that there are likely many more victims who are not willing to come forward. They may feel embarrassed or ashamed, or that it’s somehow their fault.

Also, Chung warns that this scam could easily lead to copy cat scams, meaning that any monolingual ethnic minority group is at risk for this scam spreading to their communities.

If you hear of any such scams, please report them immediately to your local District Attorney’s office or your local police department. In addition, remind people to never turn any valuables over to anyone who says they are ill, have bad karma, or a curse. Instead, turn and walk away quickly.

We also remind people to never give their Social Security, Medicare, credit card or bank account numbers to anyone over the phone claiming to be from Medicare. Medicare will NOT call asking for this information; they already have it. Report any suspected Medicare fraud to your local Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) program at 855-613-7080.

Our blogger Karen J. Fletcher is CHA's publications consultant. She provides technical expertise, writing and research on Medicare, health disparities and other health care issues. With a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley, she serves in health advocacy as a trainer and consultant. See her current articles.