To Ward Off Ghosts, Chinese Seniors Give Up Life Savings to Scammers

Mina Kim, California Report, June 21, 2013

Kon Yin Wong was planning to buy vegetables at a San Francisco farmers market when she was told her son was going to die.

It all began when a woman with a bandaged hand called out to Wong at the market, asking if she knew of a particular Chinese herbalist. When Wong told the woman she knew of no such doctor, a second woman appeared, acting as though she had overheard the conversation.

“Oh, I know that doctor,” the second woman said. “My mother-in-law suffered a stroke and that doctor cured her. He lives close by.”

Sitting in a conference room at the San Francisco district attorney’s office months later, Wong recounted how the two women convinced her to meet the doctor, too, saying it was good to know such a special doctor. Along the way, they asked Wong many personal questions.

“I told them about my family, the number of sons I have, my mother-in-law, my husband,” Wong said.

When they ran into a third woman claiming to be the doctor’s granddaughter, she took one look at Wong and told her that great misfortune would befall her family. Wong’s husband would fall gravely ill, and her youngest son would die in three days.


The third woman told Wong not to worry, that her grandfather could perform a ceremony that would banish the evil ghost that wanted to hurt her son. She told Wong she would try to convince her grandfather to see her. In the meantime, Wong should gather as much money and jewelry as she could.

“I was so scared, “ Wong said. “I wanted to kneel on the ground to beg for the doctor to help me.”

The scam on Kon Yin Wong is often referred to as the “ghost scam” or “blessing scam.” Thieves target elderly Chinese women and persuade them to have a blessing ritual performed on their cash and jewelry or face terrible tragedy. The valuables are placed in a bag that the thieves swap out for another bag as they perform the fake ceremony. They instruct the women not to open the bag for several days.

“The cases are hard to prosecute,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said. “It can be weeks before a victim reports the crime, and the offenders are very mobile. They work the community for a day or two, maybe three days, and then they’re out they go to another city.”

And the scam has a global reach.

“We’re aware that similar scams have occurred in Hong Kong and Singapore,” Gascón said. “Here in the U.S., we know that New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and San Jose have had some cases.”

In San Francisco, more than 50 people have reported being scammed in the last year. Their losses have totaled more than $1.5 million. {snip}


The crime is effective because it plays on popular superstitions in Chinese culture, and the value that is placed on family, said San Franciso’s Adult Protective Services Supervisor Edith Chan. {snip}


One bright spot is that the number of victims has gone down in recent months. Chan attributes this to efforts by the district attorney’s office to get the word out in ethnic media outlets, with bus ads and warnings on reusable shopping bags.

For Kon Yin Wong, the public awareness campaign made a difference. As she rushed home that Saturday to get her valuables and head to the bank, Wong said she suddenly stopped.

“I look up at the sky, almost like a moment of clarity,” Wong said. “At that point I remembered I read about (the scam) in the newspaper and I’d seen it in the news.”

Wong headed to a police station. Within hours the police had captured the thieves, who had $47,000 on them. It was the life savings of another woman they had scammed earlier that day.


Next week, Wong is expected to get an award from the city. But Wong said she doesn’t feel like a hero. She just feels lucky that the heavens saw fit to smile upon her that day.


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  • Erasmus

    Celebrate diversity!

    • Oil Can Harry

      So that’s what happened to James Gandolfini’s inheritance: his widow gave his money to a nail salon worker to ward off Caspar the Friendly Ghost.

  • The__Bobster

    Ah, the Asians. So wise and inscrutable, with such high IQ’s. And yet so superstitious and ignorant at the same time.

    • Bossman

      East Asians are very superstitious. Every thing for them is about the ying and the yang and keeping them in balance.

      • Two Pythons

        Stop reading the voodoo pamphlets. asians only care about money

    • Gislia Jackson

      Watch out, Engleman will get after you with facts and figures and–of course–quotations from John Derbyshire to prove how wrong you are.

    • BonusGift

      Also, it is amazing to watch them gamble away their savings at games of chance with such wild abandon. If you ever needed an Asians specific intelligence test it would be to show them easy to calculate odds of some game of chance and then allow them to play that game until they run out of funds. If “stupid is as stupid does” then gambling and average Chinese behavior would be a sign of abject failure (both for being unable to apply simple math and/or ignoring it; and, of course, superstition is another one).

      • Erasmus

        The Chinese obsession with gambling always did seem discordant with their reputation for intelligence and prudent behavior.

        • TheSpeakerOfTruth

          Each game has different odds. Most Chinese people come away from gambling establishments with minor losses, but enough of them make small gains so it’s entertaining to them. Meanwhile your utter fear of chance tells us a lot about your self-control, or lack thereof.

          • Bud Smith

            You’re now insulting people that don’t like to gamble? I have nothing against Chinese culture and Chinese people, as long as they stay out of North America. Although vacationers are welcome. The Chinese living in China likely have similar views about non-Chinese in their nation.

          • TheSpeakerOfTruth

            That’s nice, where do the Amerinds get to call home? The ocean? It’d be great if Europe could preserve her own culture and peoples. Too bad I happen to think people actually native to a place should have rights to it, even if they were flooded by backstabbers and their slaves/indentured servants.

            And no, I was commenting on your cultural fear of gambling. Very few Chinese people ruin themselves with gambling just as very few ruin themselves with alcohol. Gambling there simply doesn’t come with the same cultural baggage as it does in the West because most (of course not all) Chinese don’t have a habit of throwing money away.

        • WhiteGuyInJapan

          There is a paradox but I think it comes from having two religions/philosophies in Chinese culture. Confucianism values hard work, rationalism and thrift. Similar to the Protestant work ethic in some ways. Taoism, on the other hand, posits that the universe is every changing and generally unstable and indifferent to man. Somewhat nihilistic.
          And Buddhism is in there, too.
          They work hard and save their money but are also superstitious gamblers. And situational ethicists.

    • TheSpeakerOfTruth

      That’s rich coming from people who think the sky talks to them when they get on their knees. At least your Church supports mass immigration, no conflict there right bobster?

    • TheSpeakerOfTruth

      Funny coming from people who think the sky talks to them when they get on their knees.

  • The__Bobster

    “The cases are hard to prosecute,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said. “It can be weeks before a victim reports the crime, and the offenders are very mobile. They work the community for a day or two, maybe three days, and then they’re out they go to another city.”

    This is one reason why the Asian crime rate is so low, E-Man. The chopsticking, noodle-slurpers are loathe to report crimes to the honorable police.

    • TheSpeakerOfTruth

      The honorable police that enforce your beloved multicult state with warning shots to the head.

  • Charles_Peterson

    Sounds like they are just trying to hide their money so they can start stealing welfare checks.

  • brengunn

    Old women are a blessing to all con artists, regardless of ethnicity. Though I can’t quite see white women falling for this particular scam.

  • The way to prevent this would be to somehow convince elderly Chinese that ghosts are not only endangered, but also edible.

  • Winston_Jack

    In my experiences with the Chinese, they tend to be VERY superstitious, not just about ghosts but about almost anything you can imagine, from how their furniture is arranged (feng-shui) to what numbers are in their house address. But I have a rather different take on all of this.

    This sort of thing regarding their superstitions is worth exploring in a bit more detail, and is also a good reason for the language oriented and proficient amongst us Whites to learn Chinese. Once their weaknesses are assessed and we’ve gained some of their trust, there is no reason why WE in turn can’t scam or somehow cleverly exploit THEM, and put that money to our own use. This could very much work to our advantage, especially if they figure that it’s just something Whites “would never do”!

    Some may decry this sort of approach as being “dishonorable”, but I look at it as more of a mindweapon type strategy. Keep in mind that even though there are those on this site who would lovingly welcome them here in the millions, as far as I am concerned they are, at the end of the day, just another alien race who are here to displace us. And one who would scam us without a second thought given half a chance.

    And, come to think of it, I know a thing or two about warding off ghosts. Yeeaaahhhhhh…that’s right!

    • TheSpeakerOfTruth

      The same type of Chinese person that believes in ghosts will probably think your “gweilo” status disrupts the good energy. Believe me if you could do it some white guy already would, but maybe they’re too busy for chump change like $500k and instead are ripping off your entire banking system for hundreds of billions.

    • I wouldn’t bet on that working. This sort of scam works precisely because recent immigrants trust only their own co-ethnics and nobody else; not even the police departments to which they are so reluctant to report their losses.

  • Irishgirl

    Perhaps these Chinese victims are more susceptible to superstitious beliefs because they cheated their way through school.