During Lunar New Year celebrations this week, law enforcement is going on high alert in both San Francisco's and Oakland's Chinatown to deter thieves from targeting a longstanding gift tradition.

The tradition of exchanging red envelopes filled with cash — often given to children by seniors — during the Chinese New Year festivities has become well known among criminals, according to the Oakland police. And the OPD is consequently stepping up patrols in Oakland's Chinatown and elsewhere in the city where such gift exchanges might be happening, as KRON 4 reports.

Reports of crimes associated with the red envelope tradition date back at least a decade in San Francisco. Back in 2011, the SFPD was warning Asian merchants in Chinatown and the Bayview about displaying valuables during the holiday season. And, similarly, the New York Times reported in 2014 on the uptick in pickpocketing and other thefts during Lunar New Year time in New York, often centered around red envelopes.

Oakland police and other authorities in the East Bay say they will be on alert for such crimes over the next three weeks — and cops in six different East Bay cities say they are mobilizing to prevent these robberies.

Elderly Chinatown residents have complained loudly over the last year about a perception that they have been increasingly targeted for petty crimes — and sometimes violent robberies — by criminals from outside the neighborhood. In one high-profile case last July, a 56-year-old man and a 69-year-old man were beaten and robbed in broad daylight in SF's Chinatown, and the two suspects arrested were from Oakland.

The annual Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco is happening next weekend, on February 8.

Photo: Eduardo Santos