Ring of grannies charged with cheating elderly

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Ring of grannies charged with cheating elderly

A ring of seven grannies was hit with fraud charges yesterday for allegedly selling cheap Chinese herbs worth only 1,500 won ($1.30) for a staggering 2 million won by telling other seniors they were a panacea for arthritis.

Four grandmothers, including the 67-year-old ringleader, surnamed Cheon, were detained yesterday and the rest were being questioned for related charges.

The ring allegedly took in 300 million won by deceiving dozens of old people since March 2009.

In one fraud, police said Cheon approached a 72-year-old woman on the streets of Seoul’s Guro market on Jan. 12, and grasped her hand.

“You walk like your legs ache,” Cheon told the woman, surnamed Han. Showing her a handful of a Chinese herbs, Cheon reportedly continued, “I recommend you try this one. It’s really good for arthritis and I bet you won’t find this from others.”

When Han, who lives alone and makes a living selling discarded newspapers and cardboard, hesitated, a passerby named Ju, 62, interrupted.

“My goodness, my father took this before and it’s a cure-all,” Ju said. “Would you buy one more for me? I promise I’ll pay you back tomorrow.” She handed Han a note with a cell phone number on it, police said.

Han was convinced, and ran to a nearby bank and borrowed 4 million won to buy the “cure-all” for her and Ju, only to later learn that both the herb and the cell phone number were fakes.

Police said the ring targeted low-income elders, many of whom have little knowledge about medicinal herbs and are easy to deceive.

The group split their roles, police said. Some found a place to sell the products, while others pretended to be passersby. Some of the victims even canceled their installment savings and took out bank loans of millions of won to pay for the fake medicine.

Police said the ring had been operating since the 1980s. One member earned enough money to buy a building, and another was able to afford a 182-square-meter condominium.

“They had an advantage, as the victims hesitated to report them because they were afraid their children would reprimand them,” an investigator said.

By Kim Mi-ju, Jeong Seon-eon [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]
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