Bless­ing Scam­mers Busted in Bali

Yet again, pro­fes­sional scam­mers are be­ing mis­la­belled as hyp­no­tists.

Indonesia Expat - - CONTENTS - BY KEN­NETH YEUNG

Po­lice in Bali have ar­rested a gang of seven scam­mers, in­clud­ing three Chi­nese na­tion­als, who tricked el­derly eth­nic Chi­nese women into hand­ing over their valu­ables for a bless­ing to save their fam­ily mem­bers from evil spir­its.

The bless­ing scam, also known as the ghost scam, has been tak­ing place since at least the early 2000s. It started in China and Hong Kong and then spread to Chi­na­town dis­tricts in the US, Eng­land, Turkey, Aus­tralia and sev­eral South­east Asian coun­tries.

A typ­i­cal gang of bless­ing scam­mers in­cludes two or more women, who ap­proach vic­tims in pub­lic ar­eas, such as mar­kets, while men pose as mys­ti­cal heal­ers ca­pa­ble of ex­or­cis­ing spir­its.

El­derly women of Chi­nese de­scent are tar­geted for sev­eral rea­sons. First, they prob­a­bly speak Chi­nese, mak­ing them will­ing to trust strangers who ap­proach speak­ing their own lan­guage. Sec­ond, they are likely to keep valu­ables at home, rather than in a bank. Third, they tend to be­lieve that cer­e­mo­nial ri­tu­als and bless­ings can re­move neg­a­tive en­ergy or evil spir­its.

Here’s how the scam works: A woman ap­proaches a tar­get and puts her at ease by speak­ing Chi­nese. She steers the con­ver­sa­tion to­wards fam­ily, health and heal­ing. Then she says one of the tar­get’s fam­ily mem­bers is be­ing at­tacked by spir­its and will die un­less a rit­ual is un­der­taken.

An­other woman in the gang “over­hears” the con­ver­sa­tion and claims that she or some­one she knows was cured by a Chi­nese healer. A third woman comes along and of­fers to take the tar­get to a healer.

“Here’s how the scam works: A woman ap­proaches a tar­get and puts her at ease by speak­ing Chi­nese. She steers the con­ver­sa­tion to­wards fam­ily, health and heal­ing. Then she says one of the tar­get’s fam­ily mem­bers is be­ing at­tacked by spir­its and will die un­less a rit­ual is un­der­taken.”

Upon be­ing in­tro­duced to the healer, usu­ally a man, the vic­tim is in­formed she must as­sem­ble all of her cash and gold. The valu­ables are then wrapped up and blessed to stop bad en­ergy or spir­its from at­tack­ing the fam­ily mem­ber. The gang then hands back a worth­less pack­age, to be opened later to avoid in­ter­fer­ing with the bless­ing, and makes off with the real valu­ables. Vic­tims are of­ten too em­bar­rassed to ad­mit they have been conned, and in In­done­sia, they may fear they have to pay po­lice to in­ves­ti­gate their case.

NOO­DLES AND SUGAR

The gang busted in Bali con­sisted of three Chi­nese men and four eth­nic Chi­nese In­done­sian women. Po­lice said the group had op­er­ated for about one year, scam­ming old women in Jem­brana district and Den­pasar city, as well as in Banyuwangi, East Java, and Tasik­malaya, West Java. The scam­mers were iden­ti­fied as Chi­nese na­tion­als Chen Chen Cong (38), Huang Ping Sui (37) and Chen Ali (33), and In­done­sian women Dewi Ilmi Hi­day­ati alias Vivi Ros­di­ana (38) from Pur­worejo, Cen­tral Java; Mara­tus So­likah alias Emma (39) from Banyuwangi, East Java; Muliyani (33) from Tan­jung Pi­nang, Riau; and Tjhai Fen Kiat alias Say (27) from Ban­ten. On Oc­to­ber 24, the gang booked into Se­gara Man­dala Ho­tel in Jem­brana district. The next morn­ing, they vis­ited a lo­cal mar­ket. At about 7am, Emma ap­proached Su­las­tri (69), who owns a restau­rant in Men­doyo on the Den­pasar- Gil­i­manuk high­way. Emma pre­tended to be look­ing for some Chi­nese medicine. An­other mem­ber of the gang, Dewi, then came along and be­gan talk­ing about heal­ing. The con­ver­sa­tion moved to ri­tu­als, and the women warned Su­las­tri she must gather all of her valu­ables for a bless­ing or one of her chil­dren would die. First, they drove Su­las­tri to her restau­rant, where she took two gold bars, each weigh­ing 1kg, as well as 2kg of gold jew­ellery. She also took her sav­ings books for two bank ac­counts. Next, the scam­mers drove her to a branch of Bank Rakyat In­done­sia (BRI), where she with­drew her sav­ings of Rp200 mil­lion. Then they vis­ited a Bank Cen­tral Asia (BCA) branch and she with­drew Rp450 mil­lion. Su­las­tri handed over her cash and gold, which amounted to about Rp3 bil­lion (US$200,000). She watched one of the gang neatly wrap the valu­ables in news­pa­per. A rit­ual was per­formed and she was given a pack­age and told not to open it for a while. About 20 min­utes later, she un­wrapped the news­pa­per and was shocked to find some pack­ets of In­domie-brand in­stant noo­dles and bags of Gu­laku-brand sugar. Mean­while, the gang drove to the coast and took a car ferry to East Java. More upset than em­bar­rassed, Su­las­tri re­ported the crime to Jem­brana Re­gional Po­lice. Thanks to a CCTV cam­era out­side Su­las­tri’s restau­rant, po­lice were able to iden­tify the gang’s car, a white Toy­ota Rush SUV, and its num­ber plate. A few days later, po­lice sent a team to Si­doarjo, East Java, where the ve­hi­cle was reg­is­tered. They tracked down the owner, who said the car was be­ing used by his younger sis­ter, Emma, who lived in Banyuwangi. Po­lice fol­lowed the trail and were in­formed Emma had on Oc­to­ber 27 re­turned to Bali. Of­fi­cers then traced Emma to a villa at Ta­man Ujung in Karangasem district. She and the rest of the gang were ar­rested there at 4am on Oc­to­ber 29. Po­lice con­fis­cated ev­i­dence in­clud­ing two Toy­ota SUVs, gold jew­ellery and piles of cash. Po­lice said the scam­mers were “first class hyp­no­tists” be­cause their vic­tims “were com­pletely help­less when told to with­draw cash”. They fur­ther said one of the cars used by the gang was equipped with a mech­a­nism that au­to­mat­i­cally switched num­ber plates, even while the ve­hi­cle was be­ing driven.

The scam­mers were taken to Jem­brana Po­lice head­quar­ters. Po­lice said three of the women were wives or girl­friends of the Chi­nese men. Af­ter some of their scams, the Chi­nese men had trans­ferred part of the pro­ceeds to China and reg­u­larly re­turned there them­selves to avoid over­stay­ing their visas. Chi­nese na­tion­als ar­rested in In­done­sia for fraud are of­ten de­ported to face trial at home, but the trio nabbed in Jem­brana could face a lo­cal court, even if they are part of an in­ter­na­tional syn­di­cate. Po­lice have in­formed the Chi­nese Con­sul Gen­eral in Bali of their ar­rest.

Lo­cal me­dia re­ports high­lighted the gang’s ex­per­tise in hyp­no­tism and even black magic. Of course, there’s no such thing as putting some­one com­pletely un­der your power by hyp­no­sis. In­stead, there is mis­di­rec­tion by per­sua­sion. The me­dia must stop telling peo­ple that hyp­no­tism is real and should in­stead urge them to prac­tice healthy scep­ti­cism.

ERIK DE CAS­TRO/REUTERS

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