ALHAMBRA ( — Authorities Friday issued a warning regarding a scam targeting elderly Chinese-Americans in Los Angeles.

Detectives say the apparent bait-and-witch scam has worked 23 times in the last few months in front of businesses in six different San Gabriel Valley cities, including Los Angeles’ Chinatown.

“Recently, scams perpetrated by strangers in our community are preying on our elderly’s finances and valuables through claims of bogus rituals,” said Assemblymember Ed Chau (D-Alhambra) in a news release.

According to officials, the victims are told their spirit needs to be cleansed and return with money and/or their valuables in bags to be prayed over.

“While pretending to pray over these valuables, the suspects secretly would remove them from the bags and replace them with worthless items such as rice or bottles of water,” Chau said.

As CBS2’s Dave Lopez reports, the victims are then told not to open up their bags for a duration of time to allow the prayers to work.

“This is really a born culture and a belief that spiritual healers do exist and is a big part of their culture,” said Capt. Derrick Perrine of the San Gabriel Police Department.

According to law enforcement officials, over $100,000 in cash and jewelry has been taken.

All of the victims speak Mandarin-Chinese as their basic language and are in their 50s-70s.

The suspects have been identified as four females who also speak fluent Mandarin-Chinese.


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