‘Buried Treasure Scam’ is Latest to Hit Bay Area Chinese Community

An elaborate, colorful tale is the most recent attempt to swindle Chinese business owners out of their savings.

(Courtesy Image)

Another scam could be making the rounds in Chinatown, targeting superstitious elders in an attempt to extort their savings.

According to the District Attorney’s office, the so-called Chinese Gold Scam — also referred to as the Buried Treasure Scam — often begins with a phone call. Those targeted are publicly perceived to be wealthy, and the caller portrays themselves as a poor migrant laborer in need of assistance. As the tale goes, the suspect says they’ve discovered a buried container filled with gold while working construction, along with a handwritten note that they need help interpreting. 

Those who are scammed will then meet up with the caller, check out the gold, and read the fraudulent note, which requests that the person who’s discovered the gold return half of it to the author’s son in China.  As the note is allegedly ancient, that’s impossible — so the suspect will try to sell the gold to the victim, for anywhere from thousands to hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars. 

Only later will that victim then learn the gold is fake.

Evidence of fake gold used to scam Chinese victims in Canada. (Photo: Richmond Royal Canadian Mounted Police) 

It’s an odd, seemingly overly-complicated tale, and yet it’s been used effectively elsewhere in North America — and several merchants alerted authorities to the scam when it appeared in Oakland in December. The DA’s office is working hard to educate the city’s Chinese population about the hoax to prevent it from happening here.

“This is a special time of year for the city’s thriving Chinese community, but it’s also a time of year where we’ve seen scams targeting this population occur with more frequency,” said District Attorney George Gascón.  “The Chinese Gold Scam has been attempted in San Francisco unsuccessfully thus far, and my hope is that through public education we can ensure it stays that way.”

Prior scams that have targeted the community have been painfully effective: At least 50 victims of Chinese Blessing scams in San Francisco have been swindled out of more than $1.5 million.


View Comments