Aging Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders may need to rethink how susceptible they are to fraudulent offers and scams.
A new survey by the AARP, the nation’s largest senior advocacy group, revealed that AAPI individuals are frequent targets of scammers, yet they are overly confident in their abilities to spot a scam.
The organization surveyed a sample of 1,120 AAPI individuals ages 50 and older from across the country and published its findings last week.
According to AARP, 72 percent of those surveyed reported that they or their families were targets of fraud. Thirty-nine percent said they were victims of fraud ― and one-third of those people lost money (an average of $15,246).
The most common scams that participants encountered were foreign lottery winnings, requests for charitable donations, fake requests for IRS back taxes and email phishing scams.
While a majority of participants (73 percent) said they felt confident they could identify fraudulent offers, 71 percent of people failed AARP’s fraudulent offer knowledge quiz, which included six true-or-false questions on foreign lotteries, wiring money to strangers and other types of scams.
Robert E. Roush, a professor of geriatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, told HuffPost in an email that he didn’t know why the majority of AAPI individuals felt confident about identifying fraud when only a minority passed the test ― but he did warn that other factors, including dementia or head injuries, could have affected some of the participants’ answers. Roush was not involved in AARP’s study.
It is no secret that scammers frequently target American seniors.
A 2017 review of 12 studies found that 1 in 18 older Americans are victims of financial fraud every year. However, few studies look into how scams and fraud affect different groups of seniors. Daphne Kwok, AARP’s vice president of AAPI strategy, wanted to know how the AAPI community was being affected.
“There is not a lot of information on what AAPIs 50 and older were experiencing when it came to fraud and scams,” Kwok told NBC News in an email. “We conducted this survey, so we could better understand those experiences and raise awareness in a culturally relevant way.”
For the survey, AARP conducted phone interviews in English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Korean with AAPI individuals ages 50 or over.
While the study does not suggest that scammers are targeting AAPI individuals more frequently than people from other ethnic groups, it does reveal that they react in a particular way.
“Cultural or language elements do seem related to the types of fraud that they are more likely to be hit by and also what the impact will be,” Angela Houghton, AARP’s senior research adviser and the survey’s author, explained to HuffPost in an email.
For example, focus groups hosted by the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging, or NACPA, revealed that older AAPI individuals are worried that language barriers make them more likely targets for fraud.
But according to Houghton, the survey’s results suggested that people with a limited understanding of English were also less likely to engage in activities that made them more vulnerable to fraud.
“Behaviors such as being more active with banking/financial transactions and being digitally connected tend to increase the risk of fraud,” Houghton said.
“Ironically, this results in lower exposure for some of the sub-groups normally expected to be more vulnerable [AAPI individuals who are older, less acculturated and with a limited English proficiency] because they are less likely to engage in them.”
However, languages barriers can still put AAPI individuals at risk: Houghton warned that those with a limited understanding of English may be less likely to identify a scammer if they do encounter one.
“And once fraud occurs, we saw that those with limited English skills are less likely to report it,” Houghton added.
Language barriers may also make it more difficult for AAPI people to learn about scammers and the risks of fraud, which is why AARP’s researchers highlighted the importance of having “in-language consumer information and access to culturally appropriate fraud resources in the community.”
AAPI seniors said they lacked access to these types of language-specific materials and resources in 2017, according to NACPA.
One of the most concerning findings of the survey was AAPI seniors’ reluctance to talk about or report incidents to authorities.
One in 3 victims did not tell anyone ― including friends or family ― about the fraud or how it affected them, though an overwhelming majority of victims (72 percent) said the experience hurt their physical, emotional and mental health. The effects included anger, stress or depression, feelings of shame and embarrassment, and family conflict or divorce.
AAPI victims’ reluctance to talk about or report fraud could be due to cultural barriers. According to NACPA, they may not report fraud because of immigration status, cultural behavior (such as a tendency to stay silent) or a belief that endurance and suffering is a virtue.
Participants in one NACPA focus group in 2017 described these cultural barriers: One Chinese participant told NACPA that Asian families are more reserved about their personal matters, which could make it more difficult for elders to seek help when they are exploited.
Roush also agreed that cultural elements ― including the virtue of respecting elders, also known as filial piety ― may prevent AAPI victims from reporting fraud.
“Filial piety, a cultural trait common among Asians, could be a factor here: Elders are revered and expect to be taken care of by younger family members,” Roush told HuffPost. “So perhaps they are especially reluctant to tell others, especially family and close friends.”
More needs to be done to educate AAPI seniors facing language barriers about the risks of scams and fraud, AARP’s researchers concluded.
The researchers said it’s important to distribute information in multiple languages, and warned of the emotional damage that fraud can cause.
“A significant number of AAPI fraud victims do not tell anyone about the fraud,” the researchers wrote. “By not telling anyone, victims are left to suffer alone and likely without gaining any wisdom about what steps to take next to protect themselves in the future.”
For Kwok, educating the community is the best way to prevent people from falling victim to fraud.
“Awareness and education really is key to preventing fraud,” she told NBC News.
“The more conversations we can spark within the community and families around this issue, the less likely AAPIs will become victims.”
Read AARP’s findings below.