San Francisco police have identified two suspects in connection with recent “blessing” scams that have targeted elderly Chinese victims.
Warrants have been issued for the arrest of Yiyuan Li, 57, and Jingin Zhen, 48, on suspicion of theft from an elder, grand theft of property and conspiracy in connection with a case reported in the Richmond District, police said Tuesday.
Li is also wanted in connection with a similar case in New York.
Local officials are working with New York police, the District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to secure her arrest and that of Zhen.
At least four people have been victimized by the “blessing scam” in San Francisco so far this year, with cases reported in July and August.
Typically in these cases the victim is approached first by a female Cantonese-speaking suspect who asks if she knows a doctor in the area, because a family member has fallen ill.
A second suspect joins the conversation, states that she knows a doctor and persuades the victim to walk with them to the doctor.
On the way, a third suspect approaches and acts as a fortune teller, telling the victim a loved one will be cursed or suffer some sort of misfortune.
The victim is persuaded to bring valuables including currency and jewelry to a “blessing” in order to get rid of the curse. During the blessing, the bag containing the valuables is swapped with another containing worthless items.
In one incident in August, police said a woman lost $40,000.
Police are encouraging anyone who has been a victim of this scam or a witness to come forward and report it so that they can locate and prosecute the suspects. Calls can be made to 911 or to a Cantonese language tip line at (415) 553-9212.
Police produced a video warning of this scam in 2014. It can be seen at http://sanfranciscopolice.org/article/sfpd-remind-chinese-community-latest-scam-incidents.