By Paige Laver
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin launched a campaign this week to raise community awareness of the increasingly pervasive financial scams on social media targeting the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
The DA’s office said it has received various reports of victims who are losing their savings after sending money to someone who poses online as a friend or a romantic prospect.
Boudin’s campaign will alert community members to this scheme with a Public Service Announcement, run on Muni buses and on billboards in the Sunset district, outer Mission district, and along Ocean Avenue.
“We hear from victims in the devastating moment just after they realize that they have lost their entire life savings to a scam. We hope that through this campaign, we can alert people to the tactics of scammers so that they can protect themselves and their families,” Boudin stated.
The district attorney’s office has received numerous reports of social media scams since the beginning of the pandemic, some of which have involved people with seven-figure losses.
The DA Office found that “according to reports victims develop a friendship or romance over the course of weeks or months on a social media app such as WeChat. After building trust, the purported friend or suitor coaxes the victim into sending funds under a number of commonly- used pretenses.”
In some instances, the purported friend or suitor claims that they urgently need money for a medical procedure, manipulating the victim into giving them money. In others, they share photos of expensive cars and luxury goods, claiming to have become wealthy through a cryptocurrency investment.
After luring the victim into fraudulent investment, Boudin’s office explains, the “friend” disappears along with the victim’s money. It is important to note that the majority of these reports have come from members of San Francisco’s AAPI community.
In addition to the launching of this campaign to protect the AAPI community, the DA’s office is conducting thorough investigations into these scams.
The investigations are being led by Jason Collom, Senior Inspector with the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, who has specialized in fraud cases impacting San Francisco’s AAPI community for over a decade.
Collom also works to recover funds for distraught victims with the help of federal partners and overseas law enforcement. Collom hopes that with this awareness campaign, will stop these scams before people have to experience devastating financial losses.
In one of the incidents, a victim invested in her online suitor’s “overseas construction project” where the victim sent her life savings, her children’s college tuition fund, and money that she had borrowed from her family to her supposed boyfriend.
She continued to send money after her sister was suspicious of this activity and contacted the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.
Collom stated “ We sent police officers to advise her to stop sending money, but the victim assured the officers that she was not being scammed and asked them to leave.” She continued to send money to her supposed boyfriend.
Two months after the officers’ visit, she came to the realization that she was being deceived and filed a police report. At that time, it was not possible to recover her loss.
Collom stated “I work directly with victims and their families after they lose their savings, drain their retirement, and go into debt. Through this campaign, I hope that we can reach people before they experience a catastrophic loss.”