Boston police probe possible wider scope in 'hypnosis con'

Boston police probing a woman's claim that she was "hypnotized" into giving $160,000 to scam artists are investigating a possible connection to similar incidents in other cities, like New York and San Francisco.

A 57-year-old woman, who has not been identified, told authorities last week that she was hypnotized by a group of women while walking in Boston's Chinatown in April -- forcing her to turn over valuables that included jewelry, a Chinese passport and several thousands in cash.

The alleged victim, who speaks only Cantonese, said she was approached by three other Cantonese-speaking women, one of whom asked "random questions" about her family and then handed her a plastic bag, according to police. The woman told authorities she then went to get her valuables, put them in the bag and brought them to the suspects, all while in some sort of trance.

"The victim stated to officers she believes during the conversation she was hypnotized," the Boston Police Department said in a statement Friday. "The victim stated that she did not speak to the other two suspects. The victim further stated that she did not agree to be hypnotized by the suspect."

The bizarre incident prompted Boston authorities to contact police in other cities where similar scams allegedly using hypnosis have been reported. Boston police spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll confirmed to that detectives there have contacted the New York City and San Francisco police departments.

But the woman's claim that she gave away her belongings while hypnotized is "hogwash," said one well-known mentalist.

"The story is unbelievable because it did not happen," said George Joseph Kresge, better known as "The Amazing Kreskin," who rose to fame in the 1970s when he hosted a television series called "The Amazing World of Kreskin."

"Hypnosis does not exist," he said. "If the police are involved in investigating whether she was hypnotized, they are wasting their time. In most cities in the U.S. today, hypnosis evidence is no longer allowed in the courtroom."

Kreskin claims the woman likely fell victim to the simple "power of suggestion" -- and was not in any induced, trance-like state that made her unaware of what she was doing.

He said the woman had to be completely conscious when she retrieved the money and handed it to the suspects, and suggested she may have been induced by a threat or promise by the other women.

"Conning and coercing people is rampant," he said. "When it's done with a team, it gives it more credibility."

Boston police are urging the public -- particularly those in the Asian community -- to watch out for such scams, which they said appear to target elderly victims.