SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Two women who allegedly ripped off elderly San Francisco Chinese residents in five ‘blessing scams’ pleaded not guilty Monday after being arrested in December at Los Angeles International Airport.

District Attorney George Gascón announced Monday that 51-year-old Mudi Wu and 51-year-old Fuxi Dai — both residents of China — have been arrested and arraigned for their participation in five Blessing Scams that occurred over the course of approximately one month during the holiday season.

The pair have been charged with elder financial abuse, grand theft, conspiracy, and extortion. In total, Wu and Dai have been charged with 17 felonies and two misdemeanors.

“It is extremely troubling that elderly Chinese women are being targeted and exploited due to their cultural beliefs,” Gascón said in a news release. “We will continue to spread the word, but it’s incumbent upon us all to be good neighbors, and to make sure that the most vulnerable among us know about these scams.”

Wu and Dai were initially charged in connection with four blessing scams. Due to media attention, however, a fifth victim came forward last week.

The women were arrested at Los Angeles International Airport midday on Monday, December 24, 2018. Both were bound for Hong Kong. They were arraigned Monday and entered pleas of not guilty. They remain in-custody on $250,000 bail each.

According to court records, Wu and Dai are alleged to have been involved in a well-known affinity scam often called the Chinese Blessing Scam.

This well-orchestrated scam usually involves up to four participants who work in concert to steal large amounts of cash and valuables from their targets: women of Chinese descent, who are often non-English speaking.

The scam artists work together to convince the victims that a loved one is in grave danger and that the only way to save him or her is to get a blessing. The blessing involves bringing all of one’s money and valuables in a bag to an appointed location. Once the victim arrives with their cash and valuables, a “blessing” occurs and the victim’s money and valuables are surreptitiously taken by the fraudsters.

After the “blessing,” the victim is instructed to walk away and told that they must not look in the bag for a long period of time, or the blessing will not work.

Following widespread media attention San Francisco experienced a major decrease in Blessing Scams, from 47 having been reported in 2012, to just two in 2014.

Unfortunately, the scams and the scammers have returned.

Those wishing to report a Blessing Scam may call 911 or go to their local police station. They may also contact SFDA’s fraud hotline at 415-551-9595. The consumer fraud hotline can receive calls in Cantonese and Mandarin, as well as Arabic, Spanish, Vietnamese, and English.