Manhattan DA Warns of ‘Evil Spirits' Scheme Targeting NYC's Elderly

New York City prosecutors say they’ve seen an increase in the number of elderly people falling victim to con artists claiming to rid their grandchildren of evil spirits in exchange for cash and jewelry.

Officials with the Manhattan district attorney's office say that grifters have been increasingly targeting older residents of Chinese heritage.

Investigators think the scammers hang out around parks and other areas where senior citizens practice Tai Chi, said Catherine Christian, the head of the district attorney's elder abuse unit.

Once they get enough information about a victim’s grandchildren or other family members, they’ll approach and warn them about evil spirits.

Usually, Christian said, they’ll tell the victims in their native tongue that they’ll perform a sort of exorcism in exchange for cash and jewelry.

“They say, 'What you can do is bring jewelry, bring thousands of dollars, put it in a bag and I will bless it for you, and then your grandchild, your son, will be safe,'" she said.

But it doesn’t work out that way. Soon after the victim hands over payment, the hustler disappears.

The district attorney's office is assembling a team to target the scam, but Christian said that it’s difficult to track down suspects because many of the victims are embarrassed.

“They're not reporting it because they're humiliated," she said.

Anyone with information about the scheme should please contact the New York County District Attorney's Office Elder Abuse Unit at 212-335-9007.

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