08/08/2013 02:49 EDT | Updated 10/08/2013 05:12 EDT

Vancouver police crack scam targeting Chinese seniors

Vancouver police say they have now identified several suspects and persons of interest in a long-running scam targeting Chinese seniors whose cultural and superstitious beliefs are being used against them.

Since launching an investigation last June, police have received 13 reported cases in Vancouver where Chinese seniors were approached on the street and told they were being followed by a ghost or evil spirit and that one of their children would die.

In many cases, a group of Cantonese-speaking Asians convinced the seniors that they would need to have a large sum of money and jewelry blessed by a spiritual doctor to ward off the bad luck.

The suspects then arrange for the seniors to meet them again a few hours later with their valuables.

Once the suspects receive the goods, they have the victims put them in a bag to be blessed and tell them not to check the contents for a specific period.

But when the bag is opened, the seniors are alarmed to learn that their valuables have been replaced with worthless items.

Police say they have now recovered some of the stolen jewelry, and believe more people have been victimized but are too embarrassed to come forward.

"If they have a bag of jewellery that has been blessed but they have not checked it yet, now is the time," Const. Brian Montague said in a statement on Thursday.

"If you have been scammed, please report to your local police as the investigation has led to the recovery of jewelry that we want to return to their rightful owners."

Vancouver police have made previous appeals for victims to come forward and worked with the Chinese Community Policing Centre to produce a YouTube video showing how this scam worked in an effort to educate the Chinese community and prevent further victimization.

Similar police investigations have been launched in New York and San Francisco, where there are sizable Chinese communities.