Two women accused of bilking over $180,000 from members of San Francisco’s Chinese community via blessing scams were arraigned Monday in San Francisco Superior Court.
Mudi Wu, 51, and Fuxi Dai, 51, have both been charged with elder financial abuse, grand theft, conspiracy and extortion. Officers arrested the pair on Christmas Eve at Los Angeles International Airport as they were allegedly trying to board a plane to Hong Kong.
On Monday, Wu and Dai both pleaded not guilty to the charges. They remain in custody on $250,000 bail each, prosecutors said.
District Attorney George Gascon said in a statement:
“It’s extremely troubling that elderly Chinese women are being targeted and exploited due to their cultural beliefs. … We will continue to spread the word, but it’s incumbent upon us all to be good neighbors, and to make sure that the most vulnerable among us know about these scams.”
Police initially said that Wu and Dai performed four blessing scams between Nov. 29 and Dec. 14, 2018. However, on Monday prosecutors revealed that a fifth blessing scam victim came forward last week.
According to Gascon’s office, blessing scams can involve as many as four people who work together to target elderly non-English speaking women of Chinese descent by convincing the victims that a loved is in danger. The scammers then allegedly offer to perform a blessing ceremony, which involves the offering of cash and other valuables.
During the ceremony, the offering is placed in a bag, and when the so-called blessing occurs, the victim’s money and valuables are secretly taken. The victim is then instructed to leave without looking inside the bag, effectively defrauding the person.
Prosecutors said that blessing scams in the city appeared to be declining, with only two reported in 2014, but now appear to be on the rise.
Anyone who may have been a victim of a blessing scam is encouraged to report it to police or the district attorney’s fraud hotline at (415) 551-9595.
The hotline is equipped to take calls in Cantonese and Mandarin, as well as in Spanish, Arabic, Vietnamese and English.