Seniors warned to be wary of strangers offering blessings

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Lunar New Year begins on Tuesday, with many Angelenos hoping for good fortune in the coming year. However, county officials cautioned about the potential sources of financial misfortune, especially those targeting seniors in the Chinese-American community.

“Seniors with deep religious or spiritual beliefs should be on the lookout for the blessing scam,” Deputy District Attorney Ruth Low warned in a video message posted on Twitter by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. “The blessing scam is especially prevalent in the Chinese community.”

“The Blessing Scam” is a con in which an elderly person is promised a blessing or spiritual healing by putting valuable items and cash in a bag, which is then secretly swapped for an empty bag. The con can often be combined with fake psychics, or warnings of impending doom.

Fraudsters working in a group and pretending to be strangers often approach targets on the street. One asks a series of personal questions and then another, posing as a spiritual advisor, uses that information to convince the target of his psychic abilities.

In one recent case, a senior lost more than $70,000 in cash and jewelry, which was placed in a bag for a blessing, according to the district attorney’s office. The con-artists switched out the bag and instructed her not to open it for two days so the blessing would work. But when the senior opened the bag, she discovered it was full of pieces of newspaper.

Low advised seniors to talk to family members before agreeing to any spiritual help involving personal information or items of value. Anyone approached by someone offering to bless items or warning of impending doom was advised to leave and call police immediately. Finally, Low recommended traveling with someone whenever possible, and keeping a lookout for strangers unusually interested in making friends.

The district attorney’s office also released versions of the video in Mandarin and Cantonese, found here.

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