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Fengluan Qin, a 50-year-old from Queens, pleaded guilty on Thursday to stealing thousand of dollars from elderly Chinese women. She is the latest suspect to face punishment for committing the “blessing scam,” a coast-to-coast crime wave in which con artists tricked targets into thinking that an evil spirit would kill a loved one unless the target performed a ceremony that involved placing all of her cash and jewelry into a bag.
Prosecutors charged that Qin, along with an accomplice, pulled the scam three times in Queens within a one week stretch in April. Qin copped to one count of second-degree larceny and two counts of third degree-larceny.
In the first instance, on April 3, Qin targeted a 53-year-old woman at a bus stop. On April 7, Qin conned a 57-year old woman on 76th Street and Broadway. Three days later, she stole from a 73-year-old woman on Northern Boulevard and 147th Street.
In each case, the victim handed over the bag of valuables to receive a blessing. When the woman wasn’t looking, Qin and the accomplice switched the bag for one containing garbage, water bottles, or fruit. Qin then told the victim that, for the blessing to work, she couldn’t open the bag for a month.
Queens Supreme Court Judge Barry Kron ordered Qin to forfeit $4,765 in restitution to the victims. On top of that, Qin must also pay them an $10,000 judgment.
Sentencing is scheduled for December 18. Qin faces up to three years in prison.
While the scam has decades-old roots in southeast Asia, it first emerged up in America in San Francisco in March 2012. (Here’s a feature I wrote on the scam earlier last year for SF Weekly.) Since then, it quickly spread, popping up in Los Angeles, Seattle, Las Vegas, Boston, and New York City.
Over the past year or so, though, law enforcement from SF to NY has knuckled down on the scam. Public service announcements on buses and in Chinese newspapers led to tips: Potential victims contacted authorities when the scammers approached them. There were sting operations and arrests.
In October, five women pleaded guilty in Manhattan to charges of attempted grand larceny. Four other suspects, already convicted of committing the crime in California, face arrest warrants in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and will be charged upon extradition following their sentences.
Send story tips to the author, Albert Samaha