It was a slick con. In Brooklyn's Chinatown, a small group of Chinese women working as a crew found their victim in another Chinese woman, this one a 61-year-old immigrant destined to lose her life savings in a "blessing scam." A story by Jiayang Fan in the New Yorker lays out the details, but the upshot is that the scammers knew precisely what buttons to push to prey on their victim's vulnerabilities. In short order, she was collecting her valuables in a bag so they could be blessed, and those valuables included $150,000 in cash she kept at home instead of in a bank. The scammers had told the woman her son's life was in danger because a spirit wanted to claim him in a "ghost marriage." You can pretty much guess the rest: When the woman returned home and opened the bag, it had been switched with one that contained corn starch.
The story looks at the rising number of such "blessing scams," which seem to have gotten their start in Hong Kong and Taiwan before spreading to other countries. And it includes interviews not only with the victim, who is so embarrassed she has not told friends about it, but with one of the scammers, who got caught red-handed by the NYPD in the midst of another such con. She has since pleaded guilty and is now serving up to four years. The scammer got hit with a hate-crime statute because of multiple offenses against people of the same ethnicity, a rarity given she is of the same ethnicity herself. "I know, I know, it’s a terrible thing that I did to those aunties," she says. "I have elderly folks back at home, too, so I know their pain. I wish I could take it back.” The $150,000 in cash, meanwhile, appears to be gone for good. Click for the full story. (Read more Longform stories.)