Honolulu police and community organizers are warning residents, shoppers and passersby of a scheme that uses superstition and possibly hypnosis to target elderly Chinese women on the streets of Chinatown.
Police say they are looking for three women who approach elderly Chinese females and strike up conversations with them, then inform the women that they are cursed and will continue to experience bad luck unless they go with one of the suspects to an accomplice who claims they can remove the curse.
"So this dates back to Chinese culture, where people, if they have anything that's bothering them, they pray for it," said Chu Lan Shubert-Kwock of the Chinatown Business and Community Association. "They make offerings, they have blessings made, so that it will help with averting disasters to the family, and they believe that"
Once they have been convinced that one of the victims can remove a curse or bad luck, the suspects are asked to wrap up their cash or valuables and hand them to an accomplice, who usually does some sort of chanting over them before later handing the package back to the victim and instructing them not to open it for a certain number of days.
When the victim finally does open the pouch, they find that their valuables have been replaced with trash and other worthless items.
"Some ladies lost their life savings, and for some it was everything they've got because they love their family so much they want to do something."
Shubert-Kwock also says that women who have been victimized are reluctant to come forward and report the crimes, even if it might help identifying the suspect and preventing further thefts.
"Shame is like something you keep within, you don't wash your dirty linen, even in Western culture, you don't broadcast that, so there's a reluctance to publicize the fact that you got duped," said Shubert-Kwock. "They already have problems with family fighting over it, so they don't want to make it more for the family to be embarrassed."
The Chinatown Business and Community Association says it will distribute warning flyers throughout the area on Monday to help protect shoppers and residents.
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