Three people were arrested in connection with an ongoing con game that has plagued some members of the Chinese community in Flushing for months, authorities said.
The NYPD has received numerous reports of a group of people approaching pedestrians on the street and promising them good luck in exchange for borrowing a sack of money that they do not return, according to a police source. The con artists in the neighborhood have been taking advantage of many beliefs associated with Chinese culture about luck, according to the office of state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing).
In this case, Meigu Chen, 44, of 43-70 Kissena Blvd.; Jia Lan Zhou, 44, of 133-01 Sanford Ave.; and Xiufang Zhou, 50, of 132-25 Maple Ave., were arrested last weekend and charged with grand larceny, scheming to defraud and fraudulent accosting, according to a criminal complaint filed by the Queens district attorney.
At about 1 p.m. Oct. 30, Chen and Jia Lan Zhou allegedly approached a 58-year-old woman near the corner of 41st Avenue and College Point Boulevard and asked her if she would like to meet “the old man with the powerful Buddha,” the complaint said.
When the woman agreed, the pair told her to meet them back at the same location the next day, and when she did, they told her to withdraw all her money from the bank and buy three apples, the complaint said.
After the woman took $12,000 out of the bank and purchased the three items of fruit, she was taken to Xiufang Zhou, who told her that in order to meet the old man with the powerful Buddha, she had to place the money and the fruit into a plastic grocery sack along with all of her jewelry, according to the complaint.
When she did, Xiafang Zhou took the bag and told her that when she picked up the money and jewelry again in two weeks, it would be blessed, the complaint said.
The woman protested and was then given a similar-looking plastic bag and told by Xiufang Zhou to go home and not look inside the bag for two weeks, the complaint said.
The woman peeked inside the bag once she arrived at her house only to find a bottle of water and chocolates, the complaint said.
The $12,000 and two necklaces worth $8,000 were not inside the bag, according to a police source.
Nearly two weeks later, the woman was riding the bus and recognized at least one of the suspects on board and called police, a source said, leading to the trio’s arrest.
In response to the rash of crimes, which have been happening in New York and San Francisco, the 109th Precinct, which covers a large swath of northeast Queens including downtown Flushing, is launching an initiative to reach out to banks in the area, alerting them to keep their eyes out for any suspicious withdrawals that could help stop the scams.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.