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Police investigating jade bracelet scam targeting elderly, Chinese women

Vancouver's Chinatown, April 20, 2005.

Lyle Stafford/The Globe and Mail

The Vancouver police are seeking other potential victims after one woman lost $15,000 in a jade bracelet scam that targets elderly, Chinese women. Con artists approach this non-English speaking population because they may be less likely to report the crime, said Sergeant Joe Chu.

It is a complex scam, involving three Cantonese-speakers.

On June 9, the victim finished shopping in Chinatown when one suspect asked her for directions to the nearest pawn shop where she could sell her two jade bracelets. A second woman arrived and raved about the bracelets' special qualities, while the first suspect left. A third woman, wearing one of the bracelets, came and refused to resell it because of its healing properties.

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The suspects then started to pressure the victim to buy the remaining bracelet.

"[They give] her that heavy weight in her mind," said Sgt. Joe Chu. "If you don't buy this bracelet and walk away, something bad may happen to you or your family."

The woman went to the bank, withdrew $15,000 cash and bought the bracelet.

"For the senior, Chinese-speaking women, family is their life," said Karen Lowe, the executive director of the Chinese Community Policing Centre - a liason between the immigrant community and the authorities.

Con artists target these women for cultural reasons, said Ms. Lowe. Most of them are superstitious, distrustful of the police, and not highly educated, she said. The centre works to reform the community's beliefs about Canadian police forces.

Language is also a barrier in reporting crime, since some Chinese immigrants can't speak English, said Sgt. Chu. The Vancouver police partnered with the centre about 20 years ago to overcome this problem.

"We can sit down and discuss and help the victims understand the legal process," he said. "Often times, it's not knowing what they're going to go through. So they have the hesitation."

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In this case, the woman's family reported the crime. After being interviewed by the police, the victim still refused to co-operate and move the case forward. Elderly Chinese women may be less likely to report fraud because of shame, said Ms. Lowe.

"In these cases, these are senior women with their life savings," she said. "They spend years and years accumulating this little bit of wealth and now it's all gone."

Sgt. Joe Chu agrees that many Chinese victims may want to save face. "I don't want my colleagues and other family and friends to know about this," he said, explaining what they may be thinking. "It's a price I paid and I'd rather just move on with my life."

A similar scam happened in Vancouver in 2008. A 70-year-old woman lost $20,000 on a bracelet worth less than $40. No charges were pressed, said Sgt. Chu.

This type of scam also occurred multiple times in San Francisco several months ago, where individual victims lost upwards of $300,000, said Sgt. Chu. In San Francisco, police arrested some suspects and pressed charges.

The Vancouver police are asking people to be vigilant and for any other victims to come forward.

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Thanks to co-operation from the Coast Mountain Bus Company, which has street surveillance cameras, police secured photos of the suspects, said Sgt. Chu. They are not currently releasing the photos.

"Ultimately, we'll need a victim to testify in court," said Sgt. Chu. "Without that victim, we can have all the evidence, but we can't proceed with that."

The suspects are all Chinese, Cantonese-speaking women. They are between 40 and 60 years old.

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