• In August, 78-year-old Amos Jiang received a text from someone who would prove to be a scammer.
  • Jiang's son Eric said his parents lost their entire life savings through an investment scam.
  • Eric spoke with Business Insider reporter Yoonji Han about the scheme and how others can avoid them.

This is an as-told-to essay based on a conversation with Eric Jiang, a 29-year-old startup founder and son of Chinese immigrants. The essay has been edited for length and clarity.

On August 3, an unknown number contacted my dad via text message. The person wrote to him in Chinese, saying a mutual friend in Los Angeles referred them to my dad as somebody who could give advice on what living in the US would be like.

My dad didn't know who that friend in Los Angeles was, but told the texter that he was still glad to make a friend and was happy to help out where he could. (Editor's note: Business Insider confirmed this exchange via screenshots of text messages provided by the subject's father.)

They switched messaging platforms a few times, from text to WeChat to Line. That was when the person let my dad know about a potential investment opportunity with spread trading and cryptocurrencies.

My fiancée and I were planning to get married next year, and my dad was searching for opportunities to help pay for our wedding. He was also planning to surprise us with buying us a house.

My father made an initial deposit into one of the fraudulent exchange platforms. Everything looked legitimate: There was an exchange interface where my dad could see his deposit, and a function where he could move his funds and make trades on the exchange.

Over the next three months, my father added more money onto various exchanges, thinking he would be able to help pay for our wedding with his returns.

Discovering the scam

In November, the local police department and an FBI agent showed up at my parents' house and told them that an account my dad had wired money to was suspected of fraud and scamming elderly people.

My dad soon confirmed that he was not able to withdraw any of his balance from the investment platform.

They had lost everything.

As part of the investment, my parents took out a HELOC, a home equity line of credit, on their home. The vast majority of that HELOC was wired to the scammers. My parents were devastated. They had lost their entire life savings, and are most likely going to have to sell their home to pay off the HELOC.

My fiancée and I are doing everything we can to try to explore ways to help. I had to shut down the company I had been a co-founder of, so I can't personally support them financially. We cancelled our wedding and set up a GoFundMe to help spread awareness and help raise some funds to hopefully help save our parents' home.

Elderly immigrants can be easy scam targets

My parents are first-generation immigrants from China. They came here in the '80s with pretty much nothing. They worked extremely hard, holding multiple jobs like delivering newspapers, working as a live-in nanny, and various software positions. They worked really long hours to provide a home, a life, and an opportunity for me.

It definitely seems like the scammers wanted to take advantage of a Chinese speaker, given that they reached out to my dad in Chinese and asked for advice on living in America. There were all of these elements that play into this, like my dad being older — he's 78 years old — an immigrant, and most likely not perfectly fluent in understanding these potential vectors for attack.

How to avoid being scammed, and keep your loved ones safe, too

When it comes to avoiding these kinds of scams, the most crucial thing is to proceed with caution when an unknown number contacts you. That applies to anyone — the young, the elderly.

Don't provide personal information, and confirm that someone is who they say they are before continuing a conversation with them.

But let's say they're successfully able to convince you that they're real. I think it's really important for the elderly to tell their family or anyone who can support them about what's happening before engaging in anything.

I wish my dad had let me know that this was happening so I could have done something about it.

Correction: December 7, 2023 — An earlier version of this story misstated what the subject's father was planning to pay for regarding a house. He was planning to buy the newlyweds a new house, not just help with the down payment.

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