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Scam Victim Turns Movie Star

A Taiwanese immigrant’s son turns his terrifying ordeal into a documentary

spinner image Jerry Hsu was a scam victim but his son turned the ordeal into a movie staring his father.

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spinner image graphic quote reading "We got a request from the Chinese police department wanting to shut down your cellphone. You misused it to spread rumors against the Chinese government, so they want us to investigate."
Full Transcript


[00:00:01] Bob: This week on The Perfect Scam.

[00:00:03] Jonathan Hsu: I share a phone plan with my father, and I noticed that there were many phone charges to China. I guess Dad is reaching out to old friends or something. A week later my mother calls me and says, "Something terrible has happened to your father. You need to talk to him right away." I can tell like she's been crying and just super angry and she is just saying, "I can't believe this happened."

[00:00:33] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I’m your host, Bob Sullivan. Have you ever felt like you were an actor in your own play or movie? Or you have ever thought someone should make a movie out of your life? Well, that actually happened to today’s guest, Jerry Hsu, and I don’t want to spoil any of the story, so I won’t say much now other than if you plan to see the indie film Starring Jerry as Himself, well, this podcast does include some spoilers. 


[00:01:15] Jerry Hsu: My name is Jerry. I come to America in ‘70s. I work as an engineer for 40 years. I support my family; I’ve been working hard and save money. But one year after I retired, I received a phone call. 

[00:01:37] Bob: That’s Jerry starring as himself in the movie. He’s received a phone call and at the other end of the line is a man who says he’s from Jerry’s cellphone provider. He says they’re calling because the Chinese Shanghai Police Department has accused Jerry of spreading rumors about the Chinese government. 

[00:01:55] Jerry Hsu: They said uh, “Hey Jerry, now we’re going to shut down your phone in 30 minutes, 27 minutes, because we got a, a request from the Shanghai, Chinese Shanghai police department and they said they you misused it for a phone and the phone was used to spread the rumors and to spread the language that is against the Chinese government, so they want us to, to investigate…

[00:02:24] Bob: That must be pretty scary. 

[00:02:26] Jerry Hsu: Yeah. They said, and, and we got a request from Chinese police department wanting to shut down your cellphone. 

[00:02:34] Bob: Wow.

[00:02:35] Bob: He’s instantly scared. Jerry lives alone, keeps in touch with his three sons only by cellphone, so the threat to disconnect him is bad enough. But as a Taiwanese American, a threat from the Chinese government is quite scary. To back up just a little, Jerry immigrated to America and worked for decades as an engineer in the state of Florida. Here’s Jerry’s son, Jonathan.

[00:03:00] Jonathan Hsu: As an engineer, my father worked for the county. He helped, you know, he, the best way that he described it was, “You know how it rains all the time in Florida? I make sure all that rainwater gets off the road, doesn’t acquire puddles, goes to proper waste removal and gets recycled and reused for lawn care or for drinking. He was very much like, I’m doing this job to, to raise a family, you know, that was what, that was why he chose that job because he was, he was told, you will always find work as an engineer, so come to America and get it, get a degree in engineering. 

[00:03:40] Bob: Jonathan says his dad was always a quiet presence, worried first about providing for the family and rarely so much has bought himself a pair of new shoes. But he was good at saving money, and when Jonathan was accepted to NYU dental school, Jerry was able to support him through that. Then when Jonathan decided to switch to NYU film school, well he supported him through that too. 

[00:04:05] Jonathan: I remember telling him and my, and my mother, “Hey, uh, I’m thinking about changing my major and doing filmmaking.” And uh, he said to me, “Oh, to be an artist, prepare to be poor and alone.” He didn’t say no. And so I went for it. (Bob-laughing) But that’s what he said. And you know, everything he said was true. Yeah, so it, you know it was very much like he was there to support me, but he did say like, after you graduate, like you, you are on your own as an artist. 

[00:04:40] Bob: But it’s Jerry who was alone that day living in his own apartment, separated from his ex-wife, isolated during COVID when that phone call comes accusing him of slandering the Chinese government. The operator tells him to call the Shanghai police right away and gives him a number. 

[00:04:59] Jerry Hsu: Yeah, I called him and this police officer answered the phone, and he said, “Oh, Jerry Hsu.” And he put, he repeat my name, and I heard a sound in the background. It sounds like, “You are the suspect. We want to investigate you.” 

[00:05:15] Bob: They accuse him of laundering money and saying bad things about the Chinese government. None of this is true but Jerry is even more scared. 

[00:05:25] Jerry Hsu: They said, “Come back here, and we will investigate you and talk to you.” 

[00:05:30] Bob: Jerry has no intention of going to China to be investigated, and as he trades calls with the investigator's office during the next few days, one of the agents says he believes Jerry and feels bad for him and wants to help him clear his name. So he sends Jerry on a mission. A simple mission just to take photos of his local bank.

[00:05:52] Jonathan: They had to go get him to go take pictures of like where the security cameras were, when the hours of operation were, what the teller windows looked like. And he went and complied because they said to him, "You do this and you're good."

[00:06:08] Bob: When he texted the photos to the investigator, the investigator compliments Jerry on his detective work and tells him, well, if he really wants to clear his name, he needs to do one more thing. Jerry needs to conduct a transaction inside the bank. Police now think the criminal is an imposter and works at Jerry's bank. Jerry agrees to join in on the investigation.

[00:06:32] Jonathan Hsu: "Well, now you're, now you're a part of the team, part of the mission to take this, this evildoer down who's doing this money laundering thing, and so your next step, we have to investigate your funds. So if you could send just a small amount, we'll return it right back to you. Send us that amount, and we'll investigate like if it goes through, like which bank account it goes through to. The best way to do that is to send it to this account number." And so they gave him an account number that they said was protected by the Chinese government, and he would get his funds back immediately.

[00:07:09] Bob: The transaction is recreated in the movie.

[00:07:13] (movie clip) "Uh, hi, how can I help you today?" "Uh oh yeah. Uh, I want to transfer money." "All right, well I can help you right over here." "Just no reason to wait in line, right? I'm Matt, by the way." "Oh, my name is Jerry." "Nice to meet you, Jerry. Okay, so how much money are we transferring today?" "25,000." "25,000. That's quite a, quite a bit of money. May I ask uh, why, well what the transfer is for?" "Investment business. Investment." "What kind of investment?" "It's a, this is real estate, a real estate investment." "Well congratulations."

[00:08:02] Bob: After Jerry completes the transaction, again, the investigators complement his work. They stress that Jerry can't tell anyone about what he's doing or else he'll ruin two years of investigative work. But now they are sure the criminal is working at Jerry's bank. In fact, it's the man who helped him transfer his money. So they send Jerry back several times to send more and more money. In fact, then they convince him to sell his retirement funds and move them into that bank account, and then transfer that money until...

[00:08:37] (movie clip) "Welcome back, Mr. Lu. I see that you are here to make another wire transfer. Uh, how much will we be transferring today?" "$250,000." "$250,000." "Yes." "That is a significant amount of money. Ah, I might have to speak with our branch manager. Wha--, what's the purpose of the transfer?" "That's none of your business."

[00:09:09] Bob: And that $250,000, that's the last of the money Jerry has. And when he calls to report to the Shanghai police that he's finished the last of these transactions, no one answers. The line is dead. Jerry calls frantically for several days, but the police never answer. He comes to realize the police were really actors, criminals, and this movie is all too real. Jerry is not a secret agent working for justice. He's a victim. At this point, he's transferred $980,000, all his retirement money. And now he knows criminals have all his money.

[00:09:57] Bob: But I mean it's almost a million dollars that, that must like physically be painful for you.

[00:10:02] Jerry Hsu: That's my retirement money, I save it all my life, for my entire life, you know. For my retirement. (chuckles) Now it all gone.

[00:10:12] Bob: So many tragic stories of crime and right there, but Jerry's family isn't ordinary. Remember, his son, Jonathan, is a movie producer, and an NYU grad.

[00:10:25] Jonathan Hsu: The first thing that I noticed was I, I shared a phone plan with my father, and I noticed that there were many charges, phone charges to China. And I think nothing of it. I'm like, oh, I guess Dad is reaching out to old friends or something. And a week later my mother calls me and says, "Something terrible has happened to your father. You need to talk to him right away." I was at the kitchen table feeding my kids, and I get this phone call from my mother and she's frantic. And she's, I can tell like she's been crying and just super angry and she is just saying, "I can't believe this happened." Like and she was just like kind of stream of consciousness speaking and I was barely picking up what was going on, and in the end, she was just like, "You need to just call your dad and, and get the facts straight." So when I call my father, he says, "I just lost my life savings. I lost everything." I'm like, "What does everything mean?" And he tells me, "I've lost a million dollars." I'm like, "Dad, I didn't even know you had a million dollars." (chuckles) And you know he's always kept his finances very close to his chest. And I probed for a little bit more detail as to who, how, where, and whys, and, and yeah, I, I'm, at the end of that call, I was just so dumbfounded, I was like, well, the first thing we need to do is file a police report and start getting, you know, a lawyer involved, like how do we sue the bank, right? Like how could a bank let this happen? How could we, how do we make amends? How do we like, you know fix this? You know that's, that's what I do as a producer. I'm, I'm always in problem-solving mode, and so the first thought is always, how do we fix this?

[00:12:33] Bob: First, Jonathan encourages his dad to try to get the money back from the bank. But the bank says it can't do anything. Then the police say there's nothing they can do. Jonathan talks to a lawyer, but he's told it's too hard, too expensive to sue the bank. But there is one thing Jonathan knows he can do.

[00:12:54] Bob: So you, you pursue lead as that all end in dead ends, and then you decide to do what with all this research?

[00:13:02] Jonathan Hsu: (sighs) So I decide I would never want this to happen to anyone, and so I thought maybe there's a way to get this message out in a documentary format. And at that point I just, I also just wanted to get the facts, and I know the power of the camera. When you turn the camera onto someone, they kind of spill the beans, you know it's, it's, it's very strange. It's like if you, if you're, if you use a camera and you, and you put it on someone, they either forget about the camera or they, they feel like the camera's another person, and then I feel like there's a kind of a therapeutic thing that happens there. And so I decide I need to record a couple interviews. My Chinese is not the greatest, and so I reached out to my friend, a director, Law Chen, and his Chinese is a lot better, he also owns a very nice camera, and I said, "Would you like to take a trip to Florida to interview my father?" And he's like, "Okay, let's do it." So we fly down to Florida and we do two back-to-back interviews with him, and then we go over to my mother's house, and we do an interview with her, just to get her side of the story.

[00:14:18] Bob: So your director friend, um, as you're flying back to New York, what is he saying to you?

[00:14:24] Jonathan Hsu: So he, so he's saying, "Okay, let's make, let's, let's," you know, "I want to help out your dad, but I also want to make a movie, so who can we cast to, to do this?" There's only a handful of people, and so we're like, okay, so it's going to be very hard to find somebody to do this role. And we decide, okay, well let's just, let's just write out an outline of what the script could be based off of the interview we had with your father.

[00:14:56] Bob: To help with the script, Jonathan asks his dad to write down everything he remembers saying to the criminals on the phone. And something amazing happens.

[00:15:07] Jonathan Hsu: When he sent me the written phone conversations he had, he wrote it in a screenplay format with like block character names, and you know it was all spaced with dialogue, and I was like, "Dad, how do you know how to write like this? How do you know how to write a screenplay?" And he was like, "Oh, you know when, when I was younger, I liked to write plays and, and uh stage plays and stuff. So I, I always wanted to be like an actor or a playwright." And this kind of blew my mind because you asked me before, Bob, like, like what, what was his reaction to me take--, pursuing film. He didn't reveal to me at that point that he had an interest at all in it. Like I had to discover this like 20 years later that he, he actually wanted to do what I am doing right now for, and...

[00:16:01] Bob: That is wild.

[00:16:02] Jonathan Hsu: ...fulfilling like a dream of his. And, and so to me, I'm just like, okay, well that's a secret talent, this is perfect. So I show the screenplay to Lawrence, and he's like, "Oh, did you write this?" I'm like, "No, my dad wrote this."

[00:16:20] Bob: And that leads to another obvious question. Jonathan asks if his father will play himself in the movie.

[00:16:28] Jonathan Hsu: And my father thought about it for a little bit, and he was still embarrassed about everything that happened, and so he said, "Yeah, but, you know, let's tell it like a spy movie because that's what I felt like, James Bond, I felt like Jason Bourne. I felt like I was on a mission and taking these pictures and wiretapping the bank tellers." Like, "We should, we should, as long as you tell it that way and not like some sad story, then yeah, let's do it." You know, I'm like, "Oh my God, like I can't believe you're so game to do this."

[00:16:59] Bob: More than game. Jerry insists the movie not be a documentary. He wants it to be a thriller. They shoot the movie as if the Chinese police are real. They recreate scene after scene. They won't tell the audience the scam until the end as part of a surprise reveal. But it's not easy. At the time, Jerry, whose retirement money is now gone, makes the hard decision that, in order to afford to retire, he has to move back to Taiwan. So they have to film Jerry in and around packing boxes and get everything on film before he leaves the country.

[00:17:37] Jonathan Hsu: I was flying from New York to Florida to, to film these scenes, and to get the interviews and to help with the FBI filing and all that stuff, and in--, in between shots I was also like packing and helping to throw away things that were just like we didn't need any more or I would be taking like old photo albums back up to my place in New York, and it was just like an ongoing like moving, and uh, and um, filming experience.

[00:18:13] Bob: But filming the movie is more than a passion project. It takes Jerry's mind off of all that has happened.

[00:18:20] Jonathan Hsu: No, he, well here's the thing, like I did not want him to feel stupid. He, he kept saying that on the interview, "I'm so stupid." I'm like, "No this was designed to, to happen. Like when, when a scammer hits you, like, you know they know the things to say and how to, you know, handle you." And so having him write out the dialogue, in having him act out the scenes, he came to understand how he was manipulated. And so it was therapeutic, it was educational for him. And it was, and it was a, the whole family got behind it. We all played ourselves a, a version of ourselves in the film. And we got to spend a lot of time together as a family. I really think, you know, it, I really think God and, and just like all, all the, the support I had from like Lawrence, the director, to, to make this thing, 'cause it was so strange like you said. Like it was a documentary, but it was also real-life events, and then we're using the actual victim and subject to, to play those parts in the film.

[00:19:36] Bob: Making the film also gave Jonathan critical insights into how organized criminals work. It's kind of like they're putting on a play or acting in a movie.

[00:19:46] Jonathan Hsu: They have like a whole cast of characters like a receptionist, a, like a low-level police officer and like an inspector who, who they were like passing the phone around to in order to get his information and so that they could try to prove his innocence. And they were very convincing.

[00:20:05] Bob: I like that you describe it as a cast of characters. I, I have described these things before as, as like actors' troupes, who are going around performing, um, for audiences, and they just need to find the right audience.

[00:20:17] Jonathan Hsu: Right, yeah. Yeah, they're, they're putting on a show. They have scripts too that they have to follow and these scripts that they follow are designed to trick the human psychology like, just like a script for a screenplay is supposed to lead you down into a story and really empathize with the character.

[00:20:37] Bob: Jerry says making the movie really helped him.

[00:20:41] Jerry Hsu: Yeah, it helped me to occupy my life, the last part of my life in, in America, so and I'm glad they become a film. And I also try to help Jonathan too, because he's, that's his career, you know so I, I like to join together with him and to, to make movies and uh, I have a new experience I'll claim movie, because they, they could cut any segment apart, and then they edit to put it together.

[00:21:11] Bob: Were you happy with the movie when it came out?

[00:21:13] Jerry Hsu: Yeah, much over, I'm happy. It's part of my, part of my, my, my hobby too. I want to play or write script and everything so.

[00:21:27] Bob: The movie is now making the circuit at film festivals, and well, that's been a lot of fun for the whole family.

[00:21:35] Jonathan Hsu: So the film industry is, is strange. The immediate media thing is it has helped my father in that he's actually gotten the second life where he gets to travel to these film festivals, he gets to have a platform to talk about what happened to him. There's always a Q&A after these film festival screenings where he gets to speak directly to the children of seniors, as well as seniors themselves. And it's, it's an amazing like emotional moment. After the Q&As, we're always like in the lobby for another 30 minutes speaking to people. So I think giving him a platform, and not letting him just fade into retirement or into this like kind of life where, where he lost everything, you could easily go into self-pity and reclusion, but he's actually out there and, and, and doing something. I, I think right now just being able to be on podcasts and film festivals, paying for his travel to come out and tell people about it, it's exciting to him.

[00:22:35] Bob: Some of the festivals have even paid for Jerry to fly in from Taiwan and that, well it brings the family together and it makes the Q&A sessions after the screenings a whole lot of fun.

[00:22:47] Bob: What has been the best moment from the Q&A sessions after the, after the... the movie?

[00:22:53] Jonathan Hsu: My father likes to say that he sold his body for Hollywood, because there's a scene in the film where he's just sitting on the toilet with his pants on his ankles, and he's, he's like, "Oh my gosh, this is pornography." I'm like, "No, it's not. Like you're just sitting..." He's like, "But I'm showing my thighs." And I'm like, "Oh my God, like come on." He's like, "I'm doing this for you." And he's like, "I'm helping your career just so you know." So... (laughing)

[00:23:22] Bob: As the father who would do anything.

[00:23:23] Jerry Hsu: Yeah, I'm sacrificing my body for you. So that brings laughs, but on a serious note, like he did. Like he's, like he's, he lost everything and he's letting me tell this story because he is, he's still playing the role of a father to support me. He's giving me his, his, in a sense, his life savings and his life story in order to propel my career. And to him, he's still playing the role of a father for his son. (pause) Sorry, I'm getting a little emotional, but...

[00:23:59] Bob: I'm going to claim allergies at this moment. I have to tell you, that's beautiful.

[00:24:04] Jonathan Hsu: Yeah, yeah, like people come out of the Q&As laughing or crying or a little bit of both. Like we, we don’t take ourselves too seriously, but even though the message is very serious, and uh me and my father-in-law and my brothers, like whoever's there at the Q&A, we just, we make fun of each other. We make light of it because it's such a heavy subject. But I think that actually helps get the message across that, you know as long as you're together as a family, and, and you support each other, you're going to be okay.

[00:24:38] Bob: The extra attention Jerry gets at the festivals, and that's helped a bit too.

[00:24:44] Bob: Do you feel like a super star when you go to these festivals and there's a movie about you?

[00:24:49] Jerry Hsu: No, no I never think I am a superstar.

[00:24:51] Jonathan Hsu: But he is because when we went to Greece, it was so funny that, that we were just, first day we get there, we're just looking for some coffee, and a random man just says, "Hey, Jerry!" Like out of nowhere, and we're like, who's this guy? And he's like, "I am the Festival Director, and your posters are everywhere, so people know you," because there's not many Chinese people walking around in Thessaloniki. And so we kind of stuck out, but yeah, we were famous there for, for a whole week.

[00:25:30] Bob: (laughing) Oh, I hope that was fun.

[00:25:32] Jonathan Hsu: We were turning heads.

[00:25:33] Bob: (laughing) The movie has changed things for the whole family.

[00:25:38] Jonathan Hsu: The end has been a semi-sweet victory in that yes, we're getting visibility, and we're getting our message out, we're getting the story out, we're still living our lives, and you know as a family, we've never been tighter. So that's a huge victory. As far as like the far future, for Jerry's retirement, like we, yeah, we'll have to, we'll have to really pull our resources together as a family and, and kind of worry a little bit more about that. (pause) ... Sorry I'm getting a little choked up here, but you know, that's life, you know. It's things could change in a day. I'm just happy to have as much fun and spend as much time as possible with my dad. And, and that's all, all we can really hope for at this point.

[00:26:25] Bob: Jonathan was worried that talking with us at The Perfect Scam might hurt the film by spoiling the surprise ending. But he figured it was worth it.

[00:26:36] Jonathan Hsu: And that's always been like kind of our hidden sort of marketing thing, which is like we tell people it's about a spy story, and then once they're watching the movie, then they realize, oh it's about a scam. But to me, I was like, well we're going to reach a whole different audience of people who love scam stories, and to them, like it doesn't spoil anything knowing that there's a scam involved. Like the ending of the movie is something I think so singular about a family coming together and, and making a movie that that's not like the surprise, like that's kind of the surprise I think versus like the surprise of this is a scam.

[00:27:16] Bob: One important insight from the film, Jonathan says, Jerry was excited to be a part of the investigation to help catch a criminal, and he got caught up in the drama of it all. That might be true for other victims too.

[00:27:31] Jonathan Hsu: Their life feels like it went, it was going on one path, and then all of a sudden they get this call to action through a, through a romance scam or a wire scam or whatever it is, like they need to save their grand--, their grandson or something, and then they feel like they, they can go on this adventure, or I guess like, yeah, for a second they can get out of they're, they're being pulled out of their regular daily routine.

[00:28:01] Bob: And it, it's exciting. It's important. They're, they're probably kind of bored and lonely and now this is something important they're doing.

[00:28:08] Bob: Unfortunately, the movie hasn’t resulted in any additional law enforcement attention. They are no closer to getting back Jerry's money or catching any criminals. But Jonathan hopes it might at least get the attention of bank officials or employees.

[00:28:24] Jonathan Hsu: When someone is literally funneling their life savings away, and there's no one there to stop them at all these transaction points, like maybe 7 or 8 wire transfers in the course of just weeks, that this person did not stop my father nor escalate it to a manager or anything like that. And the only excuse they have is, well it's, it's the person's money, we can't stop you. And yeah, that's true. Like if I did want to wire all my money to somebody, no one should stop me, but there should be a couple more obstacles in the way of doing that.

[00:29:01] Bob: Jerry, the film star, does want people to learn a few things from the movie and from his experience.

[00:29:09] Jerry Hsu: First be, look out, be alert, okay. Any time people call you wanting money, don't give money. Any peop--, any time they say, "This is top secret, don't tell anybody," that's a scam, okay. That's one of major characters of the scammer. "Don't tell anybody." When they say that, you know this is a scam. For children, I need them to call them often. Don't say, don't just say, "Hi, doing okay? Everything okay? Okay. Okay." That's not good. You need to ask details. "What happened? What's something new, what activities you have now?"

[00:29:44] Bob: Jonathan has a similar message to share.

[00:29:48] Jonathan Hsu: I would love for, I would love for people who have elderly parents, who have been kind of left behind with technological advances as far as like cellphones and internet and all that stuff, like to take extra care to, to train them or to just have a serious conversation about like how sophisticated, like a phone, like a, these scams are getting. And that someone could just call or send an email and you would think it was completely innocent when there are devious sort of intentions behind them. And so just be suspect of strangers, I think, like at that, you know and, and it doesn't just apply to elders, it applies to everyone, I guess in a sense that like, you know just be, just be suspicious nowadays with, with how much of your personal information is out there on the web. Like one of the big reasons they were able to hook Jerry was, they knew his address.

[00:30:53] Bob: Jerry is philosophical about everything, and really likes the extended film metaphor.

[00:30:59] Bob: Jerry, you said earlier that you've decided life is like a movie, right?

[00:31:04] Jerry Hsu: Yeah.

[00:31:05] Bob: Have you always been this philosophical?

[00:31:09] Jerry Hsu: No, 'cause I, I see people with their life, they changes, you know, they change relationship role, they change job, or they change their role. Become father, become grandfather. Their role changed, you know, and their lives keep going along and uh, you cannot say I'm a certain person forever, you know, you, you're always uh, you're stuck and you play a role in a movie. So that's what I'm thinking.

[00:31:36] Bob: The making of "Jerry, Starring as Himself" is a happy ending, and I promise, the movie will make you cry first, and then smile later. But let's not sugar coat the real-life story. Jerry's life has been forever changed by this crime.

[00:31:53] Bob: I don't want to give people the wrong impression that there's a happy, fully happy ending here. Your father had to, had to leave the country over this, right?

[00:32:00] Jonathan Hsu: Yeah, so, so uh Jerry has to live in Taiwan now because it's just too expensive for him to live in America. And he's also he, his, his eventual retirement plan was to move back to Taiwan at some point. That is where he wanted to live and retire to, but his retirement was cut short. Like he didn't have any time to spend with his grandkids, more time in America. He wanted to travel around in a, in a Winnebago and do some cross country like, you know, road tripping. But all of that got cut away, and now he is in Taiwan. But he's, he's on the other side of the world from his family. Like when we call him, there's only two hours of the day that we could call him, between like 9 am and 9 p--, and 10 pm. Or 9 am and 10 am or 9 pm and 10. So, so it's like we have limited time to connect with each other. He doesn't get to see his grand--, grandchildren grow up the way he wanted to. And the whole safety issue of like what, what if something were to happen to my father in Taiwan? Who's going to drop everything to fly across the world to, to help and would we, would we get there in time? You know, so those are real concerns that we still are battling with.

[00:33:24] Bob: Still, the family has entered a new phase of life.

[00:33:28] Jonathan Hsu: Uh, yeah, Dad, you're my hero and I, I'm proud that I get to share your story to other people, so I think this whole story has obviously changed everything about your life, but at the same time it hasn't, because you're still you, you're still the consistent father that I've known my whole life. And, and that's reassuring.

[00:33:56] Jerry Hsu: Thank you, uh, actually you, you talk about, I say to you, you know I, I look back at my life. Something you know like a, like a, like a part of due day, not done yet, and they're so worried. Now I look back and I say, why are you so worried all the time. This will be gone. It will be, everything will be over. That's, that's my philosophy now, everything will be over.

[00:34:18] Bob: But the fun from the movie, well that's not over yet.

[00:34:23] Jerry Hsu: Oh, by the way...

[00:34:24] Bob: Yeah, go ahead, please.

[00:34:25] Jerry Hsu: I win, I'm the best actor.

[00:34:27] Bob: (chuckling)

[00:34:28] Jonathan Hsu: Yeah, we just, like two weeks ago, we were in Spain for this film festival called Cinema Jove. And again, he got best actor, which is so strange, because it's like, this is a documentary, and I'm thinking of all the actors who spend years on their craft to be an actor, and then this guy, Jerry, just walks on in and takes that award, you know, never acted on film before in his life and, and he's winning best actor at film festivals.

[00:35:01] Bob: That's fantastic, that's just great.

[00:35:02] Jonathan Hsu: Which is a testament not only to his ability, but also how the story is told in such a way that people can't really discern like, was that real or not? Because I think he was an amazing actor, and it's like, no, that was my dad.


[00:35:23] Bob: We wanted to talk to someone who understands the unique problems that minorities face when dealing with criminals like this. And particularly, members of the Asian community. So we called on Alan Lai, a victim advocate from Seattle who's worked in law enforcement helping crime victims for several decades.

[00:35:43] Bob: What does a victim advocate so?

[00:35:45] Alan Lai: As a victim advocate, I work with the crime victims, uh, what with the, the detective or in the federal cases, I work with the special agents. I find out what they need. Some, sometimes they maybe sustaining physical injury, sometimes, more natural injur--, or damage, and then psychological impact, uh help to counsel them, and then refer them to, if they need in-depth counseling, psychological support, then refer them to the professional counselors. And then on the other hand I tell them their rights as crime victims, and then I work with them and also the criminal justice system very closely.

[00:36:36] Bob: Jerry's story was all too familiar to Alan.

[00:36:38] Alan Lai: Actually, like when I got the story, it, I was screaming like oh, here we go again. Because I, I had cases that was kind of 80%, 90% like that. The bad guys somehow, these days it's not too hard to get someone's personal information.

[00:36:58] Bob: Minorities face special challenges when dealing with these kinds of crimes, he said.

[00:37:03] Alan Lai: I'm a minority, I specialize in working with minority victims. And many of them don't understand the system in America. And they, they feel like, particularly the Asian clients, they feel like, "Oh, I already called 9-1-1, they, you catch the guy. He stabbed me. Why do you need to me to come to talk to the defense attorney? Why do you need me to come to court to testify?" So that's another hard part of the job. Chinese was originally, a long time ago was a agricultural society, so it's, you farm your land, you mind your own business. Then you don't have to deal with the government, except of course you pay your tax too in those days. Then you don't have to deal with the government. See if the government is looking for you, that means trouble. So they, they don't like to deal with the government. If you're a law-abiding citizen, the government would not be looking for you. But if the government looks for you, then that, that means trouble. And, and they, they, they don't like it. They, and then they also, the other thing they worry about, talking about uh, the resistance, to cooperate with the system, is they, they are also afraid of retaliation because back home a lot the crimes are, are committed by the organized criminals. And they worry about if I testify, what if they come and get me after they get out of jail or even when they are in jail, they send their uh subordinates to, to get me in trouble. So they, it's a lot of time it's just too much to worry. And um, also in China maybe there may be more corruption, you know money can buy you into a lot of the system and they, they worry about those things happening in America.

[00:38:59] Bob: And there are specific reasons for Asian immigrants to worry.

[00:39:04] Alan Lai: In China, they have video camera everywhere, every corner of this every street, right, so it's relatively easy to catch the bad guys when they have decided to catch the bad guys. And, and then also, the government is very powerful and, and they, they can arrest people, detain them without informing the family members. The respect of human rights is not nearly as clear as in America. And so people are fearful. People can disappear from this universe without too many people knowing, or without too many channels to fight it.

[00:39:44] Bob: Of course, technology makes it easier for criminals to pretend to be government officials like the Shanghai police.

[00:39:52] Alan Lai: These bad guys can easily make fraudulent warrants. They even made our, made up warrants from the Shanghai Court. They, then they have um, interpolice offices calling the victim, sending Jane Doe a picture of their Interpol ID. So it, it sounded quite real. And then in the case that I worked on, the victim was from Hong Kong, and they, besides making warrant from courts in China, they also made warrants from Hong Kong. Hong Kong there is an agency called ICAC, Independent Commission Against Corruption, which is very well known in the Chinese community. They will tell them this is international crime and the government is trying, we try to nail them, and then they, you and then they, you need to prove your innocence.

[00:40:50] Bob: Also as we heard in Jerry's story, proving innocence is very important.

[00:40:55] Alan Lai: They don't want their name to be tainted. Once a name is tainted, it's, you, you will have a hard time getting to a lot of things like the government jobs or you know future uh, financial development, all those things. So the Chinese really want to protect their name uh big time. It's not only just affecting yourself, you are affecting your whole branch family, the, the, the nuclear family. It's in old days it does affect, you know, your children, your father, your mother. It's in the days back to the emperors, so if you commit a crime, which is a heinous crime that the, the emperor would go after you, and they'll kill all three generations or the, all your clans, all the people from your village. A lot of the Asians are really protective of their reputation.

[00:41:57] Bob: So there are plenty of ways to trigger fear in a potential victim.

[00:42:02] Alan Lai: Yeah, the fear kicks in. Once the fear kicks in, the rest is quite easy, and then of course even Jerry's story, they will keep in touch with him every 2, 3 hours, to make sure the pressure's on, to make sure the fear gets worse, and also to make sure Jerry is not getting in touch with trusted family members, not seeking help from the police or is not seeking help from, from authorities.

[00:42:29] Bob: Alan's most important advice, have a trusted network.

[00:42:33] Alan Lai: I think the, the best advice is that for any of your audience who are listening now is like you, we all have our uh safety network. Think about who in your, in your family, who among your friends' circles, who are the most trustworthy people. You, you need to have a, a list of people. And then if, if something happens, should doubt set in, talk to those people. Talk to your loved one, talk to those, you know, friends who you can really trust and friends who are more knowledgeable than the others. And so you, you need to plan for the worst say, in case some fear kicks in.

[00:43:14] Bob: I think it's a great idea to almost rehearse a scenario like this you know during normal times when you're not agitated or upset, I think that's a really good idea.

[00:43:23] Alan Lai: Yeah, thank you. I think it's like we need to have our tools and that we need to kind of think about it, rehearse it, at least in our mind and then call for help, you know, because looking at back at Jerry's story, you know it's like they keep adding the pressure on. They did not leave him alone. He has to call them or they would call him every other hour or even every hour to get them to uh wire them money, take money from the bank.


[00:44:08] Bob: If you have been targeted by a scam or fraud, you are not alone. Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can provide you with free support and guidance on what to do next. Our email address at The Perfect Scam is:, and we want to hear from you. If you've been the victim of a scam or you know someone who has, and you'd like us to tell their story, write to us or just send us some feedback. That address again is: Thank you to our team of scambusters; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree; Researcher, Sarah Binney; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; and our Audio Engineer and Sound Designer, Julio Gonzalez. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.



Jerry Hsu, a retired engineer living in Florida, receives a phone call from someone claiming to be his cellphone provider. They are threatening to cut off his service because the Shanghai Police Department says Jerry is speaking out against the Chinese government and engaging in money laundering. As a Taiwanese immigrant, Jerry is frightened; there must be a misunderstanding. The person on the other end of the line is very persistent and convinces Jerry to work as a secret agent for the police, and he eventually wires up to $1 million from his bank account in order to protect himself. After Jerry transfers the last of his life savings and realizes this was all a scam, he shares what’s happened with his son, who is a filmmaker in New York City. The father-son duo then decide the best way to share Jerry’s unfortunate experience and alert other families is to create a documentary film. And in this heartbreaking yet-warming film, Jerry plays himself.

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