The elderly are most at risk from scams that deprive 20 a month of life savings Police have warned people to beware of a new wave of e-mail scams, cons and 'spiritual' street deceptions flooding Hong Kong. Some of the latest swindles seem too bizarre to be true: syndicates offering to wash stacks of FBI-stained US$100 bills with a 'special' chemical; or the e-mail from a man who claims to represent Nelson Mandela's ex-wife asking recipients to help him move US$22 million out of South Africa. Others include a note from an agency claiming to act for International Lottery UK offering to pay US$2.5 million for a 'small' transfer fee; or letters supposedly from wealthy Iraqis requesting help in transferring millions out of their war-torn country. But police yesterday revealed that the most bizarre tall tale - involving a Chinese spirit-doctor purging a house of demons - had claimed a huge number of mostly elderly victims in Hong Kong and was raising serious concern with authorities. An average of 20 people a month lost their entire life savings - with just under half of all victims considering suicide - after being snared in the ruthless sting in January and February, police said. One elderly female victim lost $700,000. As a result of the string of deceptions, superintendent Gareth Williams of the New Territories South Region said 12 people were recently arrested in Tuen Mun and Tseung Kwan O during a two-day operation code-named Hookworm. He said the mostly elderly female victims were lured into believing they needed to take part in a spiritual ritual in which a master with supernatural power would rid their home of vicious devils. 'The thing that makes this modus operandi the most serious of all street deceptions is the amount the victims get taken for,' he said. 'With this pitch they are told to surrender all their cash and valuables for the purposes of the ritual. 'But then the gang disappears. And so the victim loses everything, their entire life savings, and obviously that has very serious consequences for the future and for the ability of the elderly person to support themselves. 'This method also tends to have a far greater psychological effect on the victims.' Superintendent Williams said it was a serious concern for authorities after a recent survey on the long-term effect on victims who were stung in 2000 and 2001 found that all were suffering negative psychological effects ranging from loss of self-confidence, unwillingness to leave the house and clinical depression. 'Most alarmingly, nearly half reported they had considered suicide because they blamed themselves for losing everything,' he said. He said a variety of publicity campaigns had been launched to target the elderly 'with some success'. 'But we are still seeing a stream of people who are being caught by other gangs using the same modus operandi,' he said. Superintendent Williams said the culprits were almost entirely mainland gangs, who operated with about six members. Chan Wing-kai, head of the Consumer Council's complaints and advice division, also warned of a rise in e-mail scams and street cons. 'When you see an e-mail scam, press the delete button and refer them to the police,' said Mr Chan.