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Vancouver's Chinatown, April 20, 2005.Lyle Stafford/The Globe and Mail

A group of scam artists preying on the spiritual and cultural beliefs of Chinese senior citizens has pulled in more than $100,000 since the summer – and Vancouver police are warning the public to keep it from happening again.

In each instance, a group of three or four Asian women approached an older, female woman walking alone. Speaking Cantonese or Taishanese – a dialect more common among older generations – the scammers told the victim she was being followed by an evil ghost or spirit, Sergeant Joe Chu from the Vancouver police department's Financial Crime Unit said Friday. If nothing was done, bad luck or even death would befall the victim's family, the scammers would say.

The scammers then proceeded to tell the victims that if they agreed to have $20,000 of their cash and jewelry "blessed," they would sell the victim a lucky jade bracelet, or a bottle of "blessed water." The victim would go to the bank, or home, to acquire the cash and jewelry and the "prayer" would take place right on the street, Sgt. Chu said.

During the "prayer," the scammers stole the cash and jewelry from the bag and replaced it with worthless items. In each instance, they told the victim not to open the bag for a period of time otherwise the blessing would not work. They also told the victims not to tell their families.

"If you know somebody that has been a victim of this, help them come forward and report it, because the majority of the seven victims were very reluctant to come forth to report this to the police," said Sgt. Chu, adding that sometimes it was due to a language barrier and sometimes embarrassment on the part of the victims.

There are so far seven reported cases of similar scams happening in Vancouver: two in June, three in July and two in October. In all, the victims lost $115,000 cash, along with an unspecified amount of jewelry.

Sgt. Chu said the cases were scattered throughout east Vancouver, with two of cases in Chinatown, and others at Nanaimo and Dundas, Pandora and Renfrew and one as far as Victoria and 41st. The victims range in age from 59 to 79.

Anyone with information about these cases is asked to call the Vancouver Police Financial Crimes Unit at 604-717-2570 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477. The Chinese Community Policing Centre, which has Cantonese and Mandarin speaking staff that can assist with non-emergency crime reporting, can be reached at 604-688-5030.