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Asian-owned businesses targeted in scam

April 22, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A growing number of Asian-owned businesses in the San Gabriel Valley are reporting extortion threats. Business owners say they are getting calls telling them to pay up, or else. It is a telephone scam, but very credible to the victim. A man speaking Mandarin demands money.

"I need $30,000. I want your help, if you don't, I know where you work," recounted Laura Lee, Cerritos City Council. "I know where your home is, and your husband and your children will be in danger."

Many victims are so frightened, they gather the cash. The L.A. County Sheriff's Asian Task Force sees the cases growing.

"They said something about setting fire to the businesses," said Sgt. Steve Kim, Asian Crime Task Force. "They said that they were gang members watching them."

Investigators estimate that more than 100 people throughout Los Angeles County have been contacted with the threatening calls. They believe there are many others who have not contacted police.

"Many of the new immigrants, they don't understand the law. They don't, they are afraid," said Councilwoman Lee.

A call came to a relative of Laura Lee's. She's also a Cerritos councilmember. She spreads the warning, along with the Chinese newspaper Shing Dao.

"Even some attorneys get this kind of phone call," said Lee.

Professional businesses in the San Gabriel Valley are the targets.

"If you don't pay then we'll come to your shop, you know, shooting around so people will be scared not to come to your shop," said Lee.

The FBI and Interpol are trying to trace the calls, but they are made through the Internet, and could originate anywhere in the world. Investigators suspect an organized crime ring that trolls the Chinese telephone listings. They urge anyone contacted to notify local police.

"It's very, very important," said Sgt. Steve Kim, Asian Crime Task Force. "We need as much information as possible about the suspects."

All the victims who have contacted police have not handed over money. But that doesn't mean someone hasn't. Now the scam is hitting the Bay Area. Lee wants the Chinese immigrant community to take note.

"This is America and we can trust our police and our officers," said Lee.


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