New York police are currently on the look out for a group of female grifters who’ve conned at least five Asian women in New York City out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, using what’s known as the “Chinese blessing scam.”

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All of the five victims were approached by a woman and told that they or someone in their family had been cursed and that the only way to lift it was to hand their money and jewelry over in a bag to be cleansed in a blessing ritual. Then, according to the NYPD, “once the bag is returned to the victims, they discover that their money and valuables have been replaced by bottles of water.”

The Chinese blessing scam is a common grift that’s been growing in popularity over the past several years.

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“These people go into coffee shops and listen to people’s business and see what problems you have,” NYPD Asian liaison Sam Tsang told the New York Daily News in 2013 (h/t Gothamist). “Then they ask for cash to help the family members. They say they have special powers and if victims brush them off they say, ‘You or your family member will get ill.’”

During the recent incident spree, a Manhattan woman was robbed of $280,000 in cash along with an unknown value in jewelry. In Brooklyn, a mark lost $130,000. By now, the grifters—a group of five women (pictured above), according to the police—have stolen nearly half a million dollars, though, because their victims are typically non-English-speaking Chinese immigrants who might not report crimes, the actual amount could be higher.

If you have any information about these incidents, the NYPD asks that you contact Crime Stoppers at 800-577-TIPS.


Image via the NYPD.