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SF District Attorney Apologizes to Chinese Financial Abuse Victims

Posted: Jul 31, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon offered an apology to members of the Chinese community last week after his office failed to respond adequately to complaints from Chinese-speaking victims of elder financial abuse.

Several of the victims approached the [Chinese-language World Journal] after complaints filed with Gascon’s office elicited English-only responses in the form of letters and other documents. The forms contained information on, among other things, compensation and victims’ rights.

All of the individuals are monolingual Chinese speakers. They said they had made numerous attempts to get in touch with the Chinese-speaking contact person listed on the forms, but none of their calls were ever returned. Several later approached community leaders in the hopes they could help in reaching City officials.

"I was hoping the District Attorney's Office would help me get my money back,” said one of the victims, identified as 80-year Mrs. Wu of Visitacion Valley. “Instead, I received all these letters in English, none of which I could read.”

According to Wu, she lost her entire life savings in February in a scam that happens with some frequency. Part of it involves targeting mostly elder Chinese women with promises of techniques or medicines for improving their health in exchange for large sums of money. Perpetrators also tend to be women, the paper reports.

Wu says she also tried contacting the DA’s Chinese liaison to no avail.

Another of the victims, a Ms. Huang, said she contacted Gascon’s office in April to request that documents sent to her be in Chinese. “I don't know why the District Attorney’s Office kept sending me the letters in English. I assumed they knew I was unable to read them."

Huang later approached a local senior center for help with translating the forms, though staff there expressed concern about inaccuracies, given the complicated legal language.

Nationwide, studies show that financial elder abuse is on the rise. According to the 2011 MetLife Study of Financial Elder Abuse, such crimes grew by 12 percent in the three years prior to the report, accounting for some $2.9 billion in lost savings.

In San Francisco, the DA’s office typically sees some 350-400 cases per year, many involving perpetrators and victims from the same ethnic group. In May, the DA’s office launched a multi-lingual public awareness campaign seeking to alert potential victims of the dangers. Ads ran on local buses and trains in languages including Russian, Chinese and Korean.

Speaking to reporters, Gascon said that as an immigrant himself from Cuba, he understands the plight of those struggling with language barriers. Recalling his own experiences as a youth translating for his parents, Gascon sought to assure the community that his office would do what is necessary to provide in-language materials for Chinese and Spanish-speaking residents.

Gascon was born in Havana and immigrated to California with his family when he was 13. He was appointed DA in 2011, winning reelection the following year.

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