Boston's Chinatown has been on edge since a 57-year-old woman claimed three women used hypnosis to get her to fork over $160,000 in life savings, police say.
Police say the victim was food shopping in Chinatown April 15 when the trio of women tapped her on the shoulder and began asking her questions. The victim says one of the suspects spoke and her henchwomen handed her a plastic bag. She was told to go home and meet them several hours later on Boston Common.
The victim filled the bag with a necklace, a jade bracelet, two gold rings, her passport and $160,000 in cash. She then went to the meeting spot and handed over the fortune.
The incident has Chinatown on alert, with two similar shakedowns reported since then. Mark Liu, director of Boston's Chinese Progressive Association, has warned members to remain vigilant when approached by strangers.
"It seems like it's something that's potentially very dangerous," Liu told the Boston Herald. "I think the elderly are particularly vulnerable because they obviously would have a hard time just walking away."
Liu said rumors of hypnotizing thieves have roots in Chinese lore. He said his mother warned him of them when he was a child in Hong Kong.
Clinical hypnotist Harvey Zarren has his doubts.
"Having somebody instantaneously hypnotize you on the street and you turn over huge amounts of valuables, to me, sounds a little unlikely," he said. "I look at this story and I say somebody is going to have to prove this to me."