Boston Police looking for Street Hypnotists who stole $160,000 Cash

Boston police have put out a warning about three young Chinese women who it is claimed walked up to an elderly woman who did not know them and then hypnotized the woman to go to her home and put US$160,000 cash into a plastic bag and hand it over to the women. At least the woman is absolutely convinced she was hypnotized.

Here’s the story via video from a local station:

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Here’s video of the same story from a local Boston network affiliate:

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Of note in the story is that the victim is the one who assumes she was hypnotized.

There is anger on the streets of Chinatown at the idea that scam artists are taking advantage of elderly women.

Boston Police have issued a Community Alert about a new scam. It’s one very similar to those that have already emerged in Asian communities in New York, San Francisco, and Philadelphia.

In the Boston case, the victim claims three young women approached her on the street. One of the women asked her a series of questions – all in Cantonese — about her family.

In the span of just a few minutes, the victim alleges the women hypnotized her without her permission and convinced her to go back home and put all of her valuables in a bag.

When all was said and done, the victim handed over to these women $160,000 in cash and jewelry.

Boston-area psychotherapist Lorna McKenzie-Pollock uses hypnosis on some of her clients. She says no one can be hypnotized to do something they don’t want to do.

“I’ve been doing hypnosis for about 20 years,” explains McKenzie-Pollock, “and I could never get someone to part with $160,000 . . . unless they wanted to give it to me.”

She says it is actually not impossible for someone to be hypnotized on the street by a stranger, as is alleged in this case. But more likely, she feels, is that in the Boston scam, the woman was just conned out of her cash by some very artful criminals.

“In order to really hypnotize somebody,” says McKenzie-Pollock, “they have to kind of trust you and you have to have some kind of rapport with them. And it sounds like these women did that, that they were really master con artists, that they asked her the right questions and kind of developed rapport with her. What happened next, I’m not really sure. I don’t think it was hypnosis but it was something pretty powerful.”

I’m siding with the folks who are saying this is very unlikely to have been genuine hypnosis. Honestly, it sounds very much like a rather common con game – a scam swindle very common in Asia and Eastern Europe. It’s a confidence game, one in which a person – aided with confidantes – uses personal and confusing language coupled with intimate details and cold reading and perhaps an appeal to charity or religious generosity in order to create a sense of trust, of immediate – often desperate – urgency and need. It doesn’t often pay off but when it does it can pay big (elderly folks, particularly Asians, will often trust the space under their mattress for cash and jewels more than they trust a bank) and when it doesn’t work there are linguistic outs to make the appeal seem like a charity appeal gone off rather than a con.

While I do teach street hypnosis . . . lots of it . . . this sort of thing doesn’t really fall within that general area. Hypnotists aren’t going to be successful with straight hypnosis for theft or the like. It’s so much easier and far more effective to use plain ol’ social influence and social engineering coupled with a strong understanding of manipulation, scammery, and social psychology.

Honestly, my video course in Social Influence at does a pretty damned good job in covering this sort of material and providing you with tools to not only spot when someone’s attempting to manipulate you but also to enhance your own effectiveness at more ethical communication pursuits. You can even buy the full set below.

If you’re in Taipei and interested in hypnosis, check the services page linked to in the top left sidebar. Not in Taipei, check the store for recordings in the same menu area as well as links to lots and lots of info and goodies.

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All the Best,

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