policeblotter_sfa.jpgAs merchants and residents in San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood get ready for Lunar New Year celebrations, police and city officials on Wednesday warned them to not fall victim to scams and other crimes.

Police Chief Greg Suhr said that since last March, there has been a series of “bag switch” scams in which groups of criminals work together to dupe elderly people out of thousands of dollars in cash and valuables.

The suspects, some of whom have been arrested, “prey on folks’ superstition” by approaching victims in the street and convincing them that their valuables must be cleansed of evil spirits, then stealing the property, Suhr said.

“These people are criminals and liars, they are not your friends,” he said.

Suhr said residents of Chinatown senior centers are being shown an educational video that warns them about the scams. He noted that similar outreach has drastically reduced “bag switch” cases in Hong Kong.

Police and city officials, including Board of Supervisors president David Chiu and Supervisors Carmen Chu, Norman Yee and Scott Wiener, were at the news conference Wednesday announcing the safety campaign.

Officials then planned to go around the neighborhood and distribute small red envelopes containing safety tips about how to avoid extortion, robbery, burglary and other crimes.

The Lunar New Year begins Feb. 10, and the Southwest Airlines Chinese New Year Festival and Parade in Chinatown is scheduled for Feb. 23.


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