Hong Kong police arrest six over ‘spiritual blessing’ scams targeting elderly women
- The scams involve convincing victims a religious ceremony is needed to cleanse their family of bad luck, then spiriting away their valuables during the purported ritual
- Police say the suspects defrauded five victims of a total of HK$1.2 million
A Hong Kong gang accused of recruiting street swindlers from mainland China to run roadside blessing scams in the city and cheating five elderly women out of HK$1.2 million (US$155,000) was broken up following the arrest of six people, police said on Thursday.
Five of the suspected con artists – two Hongkongers and three mainlanders – were picked up in Fanling on Wednesday as they approached their sixth target outside Yan Shing Court. On the same day, police also arrested the sixth suspect, a 55-year-old mainland man, in Kwun Tong.
Police believe the two Hongkongers – a 50-year-old man and a 45-year-old woman – were the key figures of the syndicate, while the four mainlanders were members of the racket. Three of the mainlanders – two women and one man – allegedly came to the city illegally, while the fourth mainlander had an expired travel document.
“Investigation indicated the core figures recruited criminals in mainland China, arranged for them to come to Hong Kong and also provided them with accommodation,” said Western district assistant commander for crime, Superintendent Sam Sin Kwok-ming.
He said he believed the pair acted as bosses, while their mainland members ran the “spiritual blessing” scams.
Sin added that an investigation indicated the gang was linked to five such roadside scams in August, involving HK$1.2 million in total.
According to the force, all five victims were women aged between 69 and 76, with the biggest loser being a 72-year-old woman who was conned out of nearly HK$500,000.
During the operation, police seized more than HK$100,000, some bank cards, mobile phones and bags of salt or sugar.
The six suspects, aged 43 to 55, were arrested in connection with various offences, such as conspiracy to defraud, obtaining property by deception, remaining in the city illegally, and aiding and abetting others to stay in Hong Kong unlawfully.
“Spiritual blessing” gangs target mainly elderly people and housewives, with the criminals usually working in groups and approaching victims when they are alone outside housing estates and parks.
Victims are told that they or their family members had bad luck and would fall sick, but a powerful religious master could hold a rite to get rid of the misfortune.
They are then persuaded to put money and valuables into a bag in a ritual. During the session, the bag carrying the cash and valuables is switched with another containing salt and sugar, according to Chief Inspector Hau Lai-man.
He said victims only realised they had fallen prey to the scam when they returned home and opened the bags.
Hau said people should warn their elderly family members of such ruses and call the 24-hour anti-scam helpline at 18222.
“Police are concerned over such street scams, and spare no effort to combat such illegal activities and bring criminals to justice,” Western district assistant commander Sin said.
He said the investigation was under way and further arrests were possible.
In the first eight months of this year, police handled 14 reports of spiritual blessing scams involving a total of HK$4.7 million.