By Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Technology is wonderful, yet has many pitfalls. Those with ill intent to steal your money use the internet and cell phones to prey on your vulnerability. Snail mail and landline phone calls are also still part of a thief’s toolbox. Someone might even approach you in person. Senior citizens are targets of scams for many reasons, and oftentimes, their immigrant status as an Asian or Pacific Islander comes into play when dishonest people try to take advantage of them.
It just takes one or two innocent people per day to fall for a scam in order for it to be profitable for a scammer. Nowadays, it’s hard to avoid. These fraudsters have large, sophisticated operations. You might try to block a number and find that they call you again from a different number. You might find that one of your “friends” on Facebook is not who you thought they were. All of the sudden, someone you don’t know from a social media network you are in might contact you in an attempt to become your friend and eventually, steal your money.
“There were a lot of pandemic related scams,” Assistant Attorney General Joe Kanada, from the Consumer Protection Division at the Washington State Office of the Attorney General, told the Northwest Asian Weekly. Many of these scams were related to unemployment benefits and stimulus payments—things scammers knew that people were desperate for in a time of crisis.
“My husband and I had many scam voicemail calls from someone pretending to be the Internal Revenue Service and demanding to call back the number provided,” said Pierce County Commissioner Chongsun Abbott of the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs.
“The scammer targeted homeowners with mortgages and threatened to arrest them if no call back was made immediately. The calls did not specify what kind of mortgage-related taxes or issues.” One of the common reasons scammers target senior citizens is because of the belief that seniors have a nest egg—they have homes and investments, or so scammers believe. The sense of urgency that went along with the fraudster who contacted Abbott is also a red flag.
“It’s just trying to get you to act quickly because if you act quickly, you won’t think about it as much,” said Kanada. Part of the mission of Kanada’s division is to protect Washington state residents from scams. While pandemic-related scams have drawn down somewhat, Kanada does see questionable activity aimed at immigrants, such as people without the proper credentials purporting to be immigration lawyers.
“It’s attractive for a couple of reasons. One, there’s the language. Maybe this person speaks the language better than some of the attorneys that people might be looking at, and people feel more comfortable. Second, price. Non-attorneys might not charge as much. We see a lot of cases where the outcomes are really bad because non-attorneys aren’t qualified to provide attorney services.”
Long distance scams over the internet and our phones are prevalent, yet a scammer could very well come right up to you at a family or neighborhood event. These types of scammers rely on a person’s generous nature.
William Baldwin, a licensing and examination supervisor in the Securities Division at Washington State Department of Financial Institutions, calls these “affinity scams.” Baldwin told the Weekly about a local case wherein the spouse of a Filipino community member attempted to perpetrate scams upon friends and family.
“It’s so unfortunate that these leaders in the community take advantage,” said Baldwin.
“One of my friend’s sons lost $1,500 to a fraudster,” Abbott shared. “The fraudster pretended to be a church retreat organizer stating that the son won a $5,000 prize to attend another retreat…the son needed to wire a $1,500 deposit first to reserve the entire prize of $5,000.” This experience highlights another scammer red flag which is that they might ask you for a little bit of money first—with the promise of a prize from them to come—and they might even give you a little bit of money if it’s a long con, so that you trust giving them your money later.
The old adage remains as reliable as ever—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“If someone is asking for a deposit to claim a prize, it is a scam,” said Abbott.
An added difficulty is that the victim might be reluctant to come forward.
“We’re having a hard time getting information…because they feel shame,” Baldwin said. Baldwin’s own family is Filipino American and he recognizes that oftentimes his community can be closed-mouthed, especially the older generation—and maybe they don’t want to listen to a younger person tell them, “This is a scam.” “Growing up, my mother was a very stubborn person…Any discussion coming for me did not have that level of credence with her because I’m a young guy, I don’t know, I don’t have the life experience.”
What to do? If you don’t know the caller, don’t answer. If you don’t know the person on Facebook, don’t accept the friend request. If it’s someone coming to you in person, stop and ask someone else if this seems legitimate.
“What we ask for is to verify, please don’t invest with your heart,” said Baldwin. Look the person or company up online first, or “double check with other people, ‘does this seem right?’” advised Kanada. It’s uncomfortable when maybe you are sitting at the table with a friend or relative asking you to sign a form. They rely on that pressure to get you to seal the deal. For this reason, the scammer might “encourage you to keep it private,” Kanada warned, and tell you that, “you can do it on your own.”
“Scammers text messaged and emailed me, pretending to be my son and telling me that he was in a dire situation—an auto accident—and that he needed help,” Abbott recalled, identifying what Kanada calls the “family emergency” scam. Oftentimes, this type of scam is in one’s native language, adding another layer of artificial trustworthiness. Fortunately, Abbot “did not call the number on the email, but I called my son directly to find out it was a scam.”
There are many offices, including Baldwin’s and Kanada’s, that offer resources or training on prevention of scams and frauds. While it can be time consuming and embarrassing to report a potential scam, in the end it could save you a great deal more in terms of hassle and money.
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Washington State Office of the Attorney General
Scam Alerts | Washington State
File a Complaint | Washington State
File a Complaint – Chinese | Washington State
File a Complaint – Traditional Chinese | Washington State
Immigration Services | Washington State (links to versions in traditional and simplified Chinese)
Robocall and Telemarketing Scams | Washington State
Washington State Department of Financial Institutions
Diversity Equity and Inclusion | Washington State Department of Financial Institutions – Alternative way to file a complaint (please see the video).
City of Seattle, Human Services Department