HomeAsian AmericansFBI highlights high scam risk for monolingual AAPI elders

FBI highlights high scam risk for monolingual AAPI elders

By Yunfei Liu

Jaynry W. Mak is the attorney representing victims in a $39 million Ponzi scheme case in San Francisco that reached the federal jury and resulted in a victory.

Most of her clients in this case are monolingual Chinese American elders who had known the scammer for 30 years. Out of trust, they signed English documents they did not understand to agree on a loan on their house.

According to the FBI, scams targeting elders are on the rise, with monolingual AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) elders particularly at high risk.

In 2023, 101,000 victims over the age of 60 lost $3.4 billion to scams, according to the FBI. AAPI individuals are often targeted because they belong to specific communities. Scammers may pose as U.S. officials or consular officials from other countries to convince victims to pay for various reasons.

Monolingual elders are more isolated, thus easier targets for scammers, according to Ali Chiu, the Lead Supervisor of Consultative Services of the Institute on Aging, a federal agency focusing on elders. This group often lacks access to English-language resources and is more likely to trust scammers who speak their language.

After falling victim to a scam, many elders experience shame, which discourages them from speaking out. Unfamiliarity with U.S. law further deters them from seeking help from family, let alone law enforcement.

Several people working to fight such scams spoke Thursday at a webinar organized by Ethnic Media Services.

“I want victims to know that it’s not an accident,” said Robert Tripp, Special Agent in Charge of the San Francisco Field Office. “These people are very skilled at what they do. They have technical support and practice their schemes constantly.”

Tripp noted two red flags to identify a scam: urgency and unsolicited phone calls. He emphasized that people should not feel pressured to agree to something they do not understand.

The FBI, police departments, and various non-profit organizations focusing on elder well-being are calling on the media to spread awareness and encourage family members and communities to support victims rather than blame them.

Surviving a scam can empower people, too. 

One of the women who lost money in the $39 million case used to feel vulnerable, spending years living as a “victim” through continuous testimonials and interviews. However, when the scammer was charged in May 2023, her family reached out to express their pride in her bravery.

“ [Now] she’s walking around with her head up. She’s happy she reclaimed her power,” attorney Mak said.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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