By Joe Anuta
Con artists who promise to rid members of the Chinese community of evil spirits or illnesses by praying over sacks of cash have instead stolen $1.3 million citywide from unsuspecting victims over the last year — and about half of that money was taken within the 109th Precinct.
Cops arrested one woman who allegedly scammed a Flushing victim out of $61,000, but officers still want the public to be on high alert.
Inspector Brian Maguire and Capt. Tommy Ng, of the 109th, which covers Flushing, Queensboro Hill, College Point, Malba, Whitestone, Beechhurst and Bay Terrace, outlined the ongoing problem last week, which has wiped out many victims’ life savings.
“This is having a devastating impact on families,” Ng said, detailing the recent incident in which a 72-year-old woman put jewelry and $61,000 in cash into a sack thinking it would be used in a prayer and returned to her. It was stolen instead, according to Ng.
The woman walked out of a doctor’s office near the corner of Northern Boulevard and 147th Street between 11 a.m. and noon April 11 when she was approached by two other women in their 50s who struck up a conversation about the best doctors in the area, according to police.
While the two women were talking to the 72-year-old, a third woman approached and began discussing a famous doctor that has the power to miraculously heal diseases, police said.
“They make it seem like it’s random,” Maguire said.
In order to be healed by the doctor, the 72-year-old was told to put the money in a bag.
Police arrested a 58-year-old woman named Feng Luan Qin last Friday after the victim spotted her in a Flushing mall and called the authorities. According to Ng, the woman admitted to another incident in the borough.
The scenario is familiar to police who patrol Flushing. About $500,000 in cash — not counting jewelry — has been taken in schemes like this one over the last year.
Sometimes the women purport to be able to ward off evil spirits, other times they promise phony medical miracles, according to Ng and Maguire, but in every case they require large sums of cash and jewelry. After getting the goods in a bag, they return a bag filled with useless items and tell the victim not to open it for 30 days, according to Maguire.
The San Francisco Police Department has been working with a host of agencies including the NYPD, and said cops in Hong Kong have fought this problem for a decade, according to a police spokesman.
Hong Kong police believe the scam originates from a Chinese province called Maoming, according to Officer Gordon Shyy.
In October, the NYPD arrested three women who had allegedly been carrying out the scam in Flushing, but after making bail, two of them fled the country, Maguire said.
Ng and Maguire said many of the scammers operate as part of a nationwide ring, and said any elderly members of immigrant communities should be especially wary of anyone offering help on the street. They should be on alert if that help is conditional on collecting mountains of cash from home, another practice that Maguire said is contributing to the problem.
“You shouldn’t have tens of thousands of dollars under your mattress,” he said.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4566.