A public education campaign is underway in San Francisco to warn people about a gold scam that targets Chinese residents, prosecutors announced Friday.
The scam goes by the names Chinese Gold Scam or Buried Treasure Scam and has cost victims thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Prosecutors have issued the warning as people celebrate the Chinese New Year, which will climax in San Francisco with a parade Feb. 24.
“This is a special time of year for the city’s thriving Chinese community, but it’s also a time of year when we’ve seen scams targeting this population occur with more frequency,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon said in a statement.
Gascon added that the scam has been attempted in San Francisco but so far residents have escaped unharmed.
Prosecutors said the ploy begins when two or three scammers either call or visit their victim.
The scammers portray themselves as poor migrant workers from mainland China who need help from a generous, friendly resident who speaks Chinese.
Scammers are known to research their victims, who tend to be successful business owners, professionals or public personalities.
Scammers may tell the victim that they share the same last name to suggest they have common ancestors to gain the victim’s trust.
The perpetrators tell the victim they are in the U.S. to work in construction and during an excavation they found solid gold ingots or solid gold Buddha statues together with a note written in Chinese.
The scammers tell the victim they are illiterate and need help from a trustworthy and prominent person to read it.
The scammers set up a meeting so the victim can read it and inspect the gold.
Victims are generally impressed by the amount and weight of the gold. The note is distressed to make it look old and introduces the writer as a person who lived decades ago.
The note begs the finder to locate the writer’s son in China.
The scammers ask the victim to give the son one-half of the gold and keep the other half as a finder’s fee.
But the scammers go on to convince the victim that the son cannot be found and the victim can purchase the gold for a fraction of its value.
The scammers will tell the victim that they’re afraid to try to bring the gold back to China because port authorities may seize it.
The perpetrators chip off a piece of what appears to be gold to let the victim inspect it and then the meeting ends.
The victim believes it to be gold and gets in touch with the scammers again. The two parties agree on a cash price and the scammers urge
the victim to pay for it quickly because the scammers’ visas are expiring in a few days.
After the exchange, the victim realizes the ingots or statues are worthless.
Oakland police on Dec. 11 reported that someone tried and failed to scam people in the Chinatowns of Oakland and San Francisco.