Violence isn’t the only risk for our Asian elders: The danger that sits quietly in their own wallets.

With the recent news of violence against elderly Asians in the US, there’s been a lot of focus on protecting our Asian elders from physical harm.

This needs to continue, but let’s not forget other ways our vulnerable elders are often taken advantage of. I intend for this to be a series of pieces that focus on highlighting risks faced by those of our elderly who have language difficulties in western countries. They are particularly vulnerable as their limited grasp of the language marks them as easy targets. The difference in culture can also create hesitation, uncertainty, and lack of confidence. All of which contributes to body language that marks them as easy targets to people who would be more than happy to make a few easy bucks at their expense.

Now, some of you might read this as: Dude, these aren’t life-threatening. They’re just minor issues. Are they though? Do we only care if they’re bleeding on the sidewalk? Or should we also care if they’re struggling to eat this week because some loser took advantage of them and their vulnerability?

The below is an example of a scam that might be haunting your relatives, or the elderly of your community, and you may not even have thought of it.

Money talk

I worked part-time as a teller in a bank during university. I noticed that the pensioners loved taking all their cash out as soon as the payment was made. That in itself isn’t a huge deal, but they always took it out in the highest denominations. I suspect it’s because it’s easier for them to count.

Why is that an issue?

Firstly, when you’re fumbling with shaking hands, dropping $100 versus dropping a $20 note makes a huge difference. Our elders are often rushing from here to there. This can easily happen, but it’s not always at the forefront of their minds.

Secondly, imagine an elderly person buying $27.45 worth of groceries and paying with a $100 note. Some unscrupulous people will short-change them, confusing them by using too many smaller notes/coins, or worse, take advantage of any memory issues they have.

Weirdly, while they would count how much cash I gave them as a teller, but seemed oblivious to the risk posed by others they deemed as “good people”. Me, the Asian girl who spent an extra 5min asking about their day because they reminded me of my grandparents.

They were always somewhat afraid I would short-change them, except it wasn’t me that would screw them over.

Surely they’d check the receipt, you’re thinking. Aren’t all Asians super fastidious with their cash? Yeh, I thought so too, until this happened.

Protected by the big conglomerate in the safe western world

My aunt (60+) liked to use big denomination notes. She tended to rush, and counting 100s before she went out was easier for her. She was the type that had limited English, and often didn’t want to “create a fuss”. That said, she always insisted she was perfectly independent so we all usually let her go about her own business. As long as we knew she had money to spend, could transport herself to and from the shops safely, we thought it was all good.

One day while shopping, my cousin (moved out, married with kids) happened to join her at the checkout just as she paid and received her change when he noticed that the checkout person had short-changed her.

He jumped in and corrected it, making the checkout person give her the remaining change. The checkout person claimed it was an honest mistake, but the receipt said my Aunt paid $40 in notes, and my cousin knew she only had a $100 note in her wallet. It felt deliberate and we all wondered how many times it had happened.

My Aunt was shocked because she always got the short-changed amount (or thereabouts) and just assumed things were expensive. The checkout person was always super nice to her so she always went to them.

My cousin was outraged. He spoke to the store manager who assured him that the staff member would be dealt with. But weeks later my cousin would see that the kid was still working there. When he asked the store manager for an update; apparently there was no proof that the kid hadn’t done it deliberately and the account of my Aunt was not evidence enough.

Turns out she rarely checked her receipts because she often forgot her glasses. She just assumed that such a big western supermarket chain would never do something like that, that it was safer here in Australia, and rationalized the high cost because everyone was always complaining about how expensive food was.

She thought she was protected by this huge western conglomerate that would never take advantage of her, she thought she was safe in this western country -safer than in Asia where she knew swindlers were everywhere.

Ironically, in the end, only that kid was really protected by the big western conglomerate.

My aunt never shopped there again and we told her to try and pay in exact change as much as possible.

We subsequently started asking all the elders how they took their pension, how they paid, did they check their receipts, why that’s important, etc.

As a result of this experience, I also made it a point to tell this story to every pensioner who came in -they didn’t even need to be Asian. Some waved it off, others actually listened and switched to taking out their pension in a mixture of coins and smaller notes.

So, make sure you sit your elders down and explain why the middle-of-the-range denominations are better. Tell them the same story, encourage them to check receipts. Some of them are probably doing that already. My parents do, but we never expected that my aunt didn’t. It seemed so obvious.

So have you ever asked? Do you know? If not, best to check.

Take care of yourselves and yours.

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