Organised groups of fraudsters are targeting middle-aged and elderly Chinese victims, telling terrifying tales of ghostly horrors to gain access to their life savings.
One woman was scammed out of $100,000 in money and valuables.
Police confirmed they were aware of four cases in Auckland this year, and had received multiple reports of the "Chinese blessing scam" in the past few years.
Su Fen Tang, 60, a retiree who lives in Mt Roskill, was on her way to her medical check-up at Greenlane Hospital when a woman who appeared to be troubled rushed up to her.
"I am looking for a Doctor Gao, do you know him, he is famous in New Zealand," the woman asked in Cantonese.
"He is my only hope now, I need him to cure me."
Tang, originally from Hong Kong, told the woman she had lived here for 30 years and had never heard of a 'Dr Gao'.
Then a woman walked by and overheard the conversation, interjecting: "You looking for Dr Gao? He is truly a 'God doctor' with special powers and I owe my family's health and spiritual wellbeing to the miracle he's performed."
The two women then convinced Tang to go with them to meet Dr Gao, saying he could cure her of her ailments.
"I was touched by how nice the women are, and although I just met them, it felt like we were friends and I let my defences down," Tang said.
She revealed to them her health conditions and even some personal family issues.
Dr Gao - who Tang described as a "well dressed middle-aged Chinese gentleman" - told her that her ailments and lack of good fortune was because of a curse by an evil spirit.
"Dr Gao refused to take a fee, and said he will do a blessing for me as a friend," she said.
Tang was told to put all the money and valuables she owned into a bag, which amounted to about $100,000, to be blessed by Gao.
The bag was later returned, and she was told not to open it for several days and not to tell family members - otherwise the blessing would not work and the evil spirit would return.
Tang found the bag filled with stones when she finally opened it.
"My mind went totally blank," she said.
Police said the fraudsters had been preying on people at different locations.
A spokesman described the scam as an elaborate fraud designed specifically to prey on older Chinese by exploiting their strong traditional and cultural beliefs.
"Potential victims are approached on the street by members of the group, who then convince victims that an evil spirit is following them and will harm members of their families - unless a blessing ceremony is performed," the spokesman said.
"Enquiries by police have not led to the identification of those involved at this stage."
Police said the scam had been happening worldwide.
But the scammers in New Zealand had been targeting older Chinese women who believe in traditional spirits and demons.
"Typically those targeted speak little or no English," the spokesman said.
"They tend to be reluctant to report the frauds to the police."
On the morning of April 14, 80-year-old Chinese grandmother Jin Ye Li became a target at the Takapuna Sunday market.
She was convinced by a scammer that she was in need of "blessing".
Li did not have much cash or valuables on her, so the fraudster accompanied her to collect her valuables from her safe box, which was not far from the market.
They met her the following morning to take her gold and jewellery from a vault in the central city, and bought her lunch.
"She was given a bottle of water, said to have special powers to wipe her eyes," Li's daughter said.
"My mother then handed over all her jewellery to the fraudster."
Among the items were gold necklaces, bracelets and rings, jade pendants, her NZ passport, Chinese Retirement certificate, and her safe box key and access card.
Howick ward Auckland City councillor Paul Young said he had been helping several victims in the past few months, who lost upwards of $50,000 each to the scammers.
Young believed the scam was widespread and wanted other victims to come forward and contact the police.
"Police will take the matter far more seriously if they know for a fact the number of victims is big," he said.
Young said he had made contact with Chinese Interpol to pass on information about the cases in New Zealand.
"Many of the older Chinese are more superstitious and have a strong belief in Eastern medicine," Young said.
"They are also more naive than the younger generation, which makes them easy targets."
Young urged people in the Chinese community to warn their parents and older relatives about the scam.
Police ethnic responsiveness manager Jessica Phuang said they had been spreading the message to the Chinese community about the scam.
"Our message is do not give your personal details or those of your family to strangers," she said.
"If you are approached by strangers, do not engage in dialogue with them and do not bring people home or to your bank to withdraw money."
Phuang encouraged anyone with information about the scam to contact police on 09 302 6400.
She said victims should contact their nearest police station, who would have access to staff who spoke both Mandarin and Cantonese.
- Additional reporting: Jasmine Yang