District Attorney George Gascón Launches Blessing Scam Public Education Campaign

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

CONTACT: Stephanie Ong Stillman, DA Gascón’s Office, (415) 553-1167
ADA Alex Bastian, DA Gascón’s Office, (415) 553-1931

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – In honor of Elder Abuse Prevention Month, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón was joined by Supervisor Malia Cohen, Anni Chung of Self Help for the Elderly, and Edith Chan from Adult Protective Services at the John King Senior Center in Visitacion Valley to launch a public education campaign. The campaign is designed to educate the Chinese community about blessing scams that are occurring all over the country. San Francisco recently became the first jurisdiction in the country to secure convictions in two separate cases. To date, over $1.5 million in cash and jewelry has been stolen from over 50 victims in San Francisco, with one-third of incidents occurring in the city’s Southeast Sector.

“Over the past year, my office has taken an aggressive approach to prosecuting and preventing blessing scams,” said District Attorney George Gascón. “While my office will continue to aggressively prosecute these cases, we know prosecution does not get to the heart of the problem. Only through prevention and public education can we stop these scammers from victimizing any more people,”

"We must continue to educate our residents about how best to avoid being a victim and share any information with the Police Department so we can put an end to these shameless scams,” said Supervisor Malia Cohen.

Sometimes called the “ghost scam”, or “jewelry scam”, scammers are targeting middle-aged to elderly Chinese women who are walking alone in busy shopping areas. Scammers, who are also Chinese, travel in teams of three but approach potential victims separately so they can strategically corner their target. One scammer will approach the victim and ask her if she knows of a particular doctor. Another scammer posing as a relative of the doctor will tell the victim that a ghost followed her home and now someone in her family is in danger. The third scammer will tell her the only way to protect her family member is to perform a “blessing ritual”. The woman is instructed to put cash and jewelry in a bag and meet the scammers at a designated location. The scammers pretend to perform a blessing, but switch the bags while the woman isn’t looking. The woman is instructed not to open the bag for a period of time not knowing her cash and jewelry are gone.

The District Attorney is taking a multi-generational approach to the public education campaign to reach monolingual speakers and first and second generation members of the Chinese community. The bilingual Chinese and English campaign includes Muni interior ads, Facebook ads, campaign posters, educational brochures and free giveaways such as reusable bags and ID Card holders. The District Attorney’s Office also plans to do extensive outreach to community organizations and businesses with an upcoming event at Portsmouth Square in Chinatown on Wednesday, May 29, at 1pm.

The public education campaign is part of the San Francisco District Attorney’s ongoing work to prevent and prosecute crimes against seniors. The District Attorney’s Office handles elder abuse cases involving both financial crimes and physical abuse against seniors. The public awareness campaign encourages all people to report any suspected abuse against a senior. This can be done by calling SFPD at 415-553-1521 or the District Attorney’s Office at 415-551-9597.