Toronto Police is on the hunt for a group of female con artists who have been scamming older Chinese women out of thousands of dollars and jewellery by offering a “spiritual cleansing” to victims.
The thefts have occurred in 42 Division over the last three years.
There were five reports to police in 2013, none last year and six in the last three months.
Detective Sergeant Gerry Heaney said a group of young Chinese women is targeting older women of Chinese ancestry, claiming they know a “doctor” or “healer” in the Scarborough north community with special healing or blessing powers.
The scams have taken place outside shopping malls, plazas and grocery stores frequented by members of the Chinese community.
“It starts with a meeting when a suspect sees the victim is alone,” said Heaney. “The victims are mainly vulnerable citizens and they are manipulated into thinking that they will be cleansed of evil spirits, spells, and sickness and will receive protection for their family once they get this special blessing. Another suspect, lurking in the background, will then come up and endorse what the first suspect said to make the victim feel comfortable.”
For the blessing to be successful, the suspects claim they must perform it on the victims’ valuables, including cash and jewelry. They accompany the victims to their residences and provide instructions to wrap their valuables up tight and place them in a bag.
The suspects wait nearby for the victims to return with their valuables and then walk the unsuspecting victims to a third female suspect who performs the blessing on the wrapped money and valuables.
“Once the victim is distracted during the ceremony, the female suspects collaborate to remove the cash and valuables and replace them with similarly weighted objects,” said Heaney. “The victims’ are advised not to open or tell anyone for a specific number of days or the spell will be broken.”
Heaney said that a victim went to her bank’s safety deposit, took everything out and handed it over to one of the suspects, who speak both Mandarin and Cantonese.
One suspect is between 40-50 and 5’0” and 5’3”, with a medium build while another is in the same age range and is between 5’0” and 5’5” in height with a distinctive red mark on the cheek or above the lip.
The third suspect is 40-50, between 5’0” and 5’5”, with a medium-to-heavy build and she performs the blessing.
“In some of these recent blessing theft cases, the female suspects have struggled with the victims, once they become suspicious and would not turn over their valuables,” Heaney said.
Investigators believe there may be other victims and are urging them to contact police.
Toronto Police has translators available through the 9-1-1 emergency system, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We are also asking people to educate their family members, especially those who do not speak English and are seniors and make them aware of this type of crime,” said Heaney. “We also ask you if you come in contact with anyone you believe is committing these crimes to try to take down their license plates, descriptions and to call police immediately.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact police at (416) 808-4200, Crime Stoppers at 416-222-TIPS (8477), online at 222tips.com, text TOR and your message to CRIMES (274637). Download the free Crime Stoppers Mobile App on iTunes, Google Play or Blackberry App World.