A belief in ghosts or spirits is common and mostly harmless, mostly. An interesting article regarding a Chinese ghost scam occurring in San Francisco showed up in my inbox the other day. The scam, and a partial resolution, illustrates the need for public education.
The article, by Erin Sherbert at SF Weekly, tells of three Chinese women stealing jewelry and other items of value from superstitious members of the local Chinese community. The con artists work as a team to convince the mark that she had been cursed and had a ghost attached to her. The only remedy for this curse was an involved purification ritual, which, of course, must also be done on all the victim’s valuables. The mark brings her valuables to a complicit herbal doctor for purification. The valuables are placed into a bag for the ritual.
The suspects finally gave the woman back the bag, but told her not to look inside just yet, otherwise she would ruin the purifying ritual. What’s more, the woman told her if she did talk to anyone about it, the ghost would attach to that other person.
When the unfortunate victim later opened the bag, she found scraps of newspaper — and we all know that’s worth nothing.
We all know that con jobs happen, marks get scammed, people get defrauded and stolen from all the time with a variety of lies and trickery. This scam is particularly annoying given that it is built upon the credulity of believers with an easy, and unverifiable fix. The scammers might have been better served, at least legally, by charging for the purification service rather than outright stealing the valuables.
As an amusing follow-up, a would-be victim, pre-warned by the SF police, wised up to the scam in time to notify the proper authorities who busted a ring of these scammers.
While in route to her house, the victim recalled having just heard a warning on the news about this kind of scam. So instead of going home, the victim went to Ingleside Police Station and reported the scam.
The police made several arrests and court proceedings are in progress.
It is encouraging to see that public education can make a difference in the community. The potential victim protected herself and helped to get these criminals off of the street as a direct result of a public education campaign by the police. It would have been even more satisfying if she had, instead, been a bit more skeptical about being cursed or haunted by ghosts/spirits, but I find hope where I can. The educational efforts that all of us make as skeptics and lovers of science and reason do make a difference.