Posts Tagged ‘Scams’

Why Are Older People More Vulnerable to Fraud?

December 19, 2012

It is always depressing hearing a story about an elderly couple who have lost their entire life savings to a scam. But one also wonders how people with so many years of experience can fall for such a scam. One would think that as we age we would become less, not more, vulnerable. An article in a Special Section on Aging in the Washington Post1 provides some insight.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), up to 80% of scam victims are older than 65. The tendency of the elderly to accentuate the positive makes them easy marks according to the FTC and the FBI. According to social neuroscientist Shelly Taylor, “Older people are good at regulating their emotions, seeing things in a positive light, and not overreacting to everyday problems.”2 Taylor and her colleagues showed pictures of faces considered trustworthy, neutral, or untrustworthy to a group up of 119 older adults (aged 55 to 84) and 24 younger adults (aged 20 to 42). “Signs of untrustworthiness included averted eyes; an insincere smile that doesn’t reach the eyes; a smug, smirky mouth, and a backward tilt of the head.”3 Each face was rated on a scale from minus 3 (very untrustworthy) to 3 (very trustworthy). The results indicated that the untrustworthy faces were rated as significantly more trustworthy by the older subjects than by the younger ones.

The same researchers then performed the same test with new participants. However, this time the brains of the participants were imaged looking for differences in brain activity between the age groups. When the younger subjects were asked to judge whether the faces were trustworthy, the anterior insula became active. This activity increased during the sight of an untrustworthy face. However, older people showed little or no activation. According to Taylor the insula’s job is to collect information not about others, but about one’s own body, sensing feelings and the so-called gut instincts, and presenting that information to the rest of the brain. “It’s a warning bell that doesn’t seem to work as well in older people.” It appears that the optimistic tendency of the elderly might be overriding this warning signal.

It is curious to speculate as to why the elderly tend towards optimism. As we age, we close in on the prospect of our own death, and have likely experienced the passing of loved ones. Physical and cognitive problems are likely to present themselves. Social relationships can deteriorate and be lost, so loneliness can be a problem. An optimistic attitude can be quite helpful in coping with these difficulties. Nevertheless, the elderly need to realize that this optimistic attitude can make them vulnerable to fraud. See also the healthymemory blog posts, “Will Baby Boomers Be More Vulnerable to Scams?” and “The Distinctiveness Heuristic.” Enter “Optimism” in the search box to find more posts regarding optimism and its positive and negative merits.

1Norton, E. (2012). Why Older People Get Scammed, Washington Post, December 11, E4.



© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Will Baby Boomers Be More Vulnerable to Scams?

March 20, 2011

I recently read an article1 stating that the elderly are more prone to scams. Three reasons were given: More Trusting, Loneliness, and Memory Loss.

This made me wonder whether baby boomers will be more trusting. We were supposed to be more skeptical to begin with. My personal experience has increased this skepticism several orders of magnitude. For years I had been promising myself that I would read the annual reports that were sent to me as a stockholder. I was just starting to do this when the Enron scandal broke. That taught me that reading these reports was futile.

We have bought several homes in our lifetime. Each experience was traumatic to me. I worried about the debt I was assuming. However, I reasoned to myself that these mortgage companies would not make foolish loans or they would lose money. But one of the primary reasons for our recent financial crisis was that the mortgage companies did not care because they sold the mortgages to conglomerates that either did not know or not care what risk they were assuming. During our most recent home purchase I was amazed at the amount of debt that they would let us assume. Now I understand. They did not care if we defaulted because by that time the default would be someone else’s problem.

Then there is the financial crisis itself. It appears that deregulation and the scant enforcement of the regulations that existed were primary factors underlying the crisis. But the reforms that were passed were weak and in the view of most knowledgeable individuals, inadequate. Moreover, the recent elections indicate that it is even less likely that adequate protections will be provided.

Then there are the defaulted pensions. First were the companies that went into bankruptcy and defaulted on their pension obligations. I had thought that there were government agencies to assure that pension funds were adequately funded. Either there were not such agencies or these agencies were remiss in fulfilling their objectives. Now we have state and local governments revoking or modifying commitments that had been made to their employees.

So current events should have disabused baby boomers, at least, of being more trusting.

Peter A. Lichtenberg of Wayne State University’s Institute of Gerontology has said that his research indicated that loneliness or feeling undervalued that increases a senior’s risk. of falling for scams by 30 percent. Now Healthmemory Blog readers should realize that transactive memory involves the interaction with other humans. There are benefits here not only in the knowledge gained, but perhaps more importantly, in the interaction and building of relationships with fellow humans. The knowledge and confidence gained through interactions with both the technological and human aspects of transactive memory should also boost self esteem.

As for memory loss, the objective of the Healthymemory Blog is not only to forestall memory loss, but to promote cognitive growth. By continuing to learning about new topics and learning new skills memory health is promoted. Readers of the Healthymemory Blog should be aware of the benefits of nonconscious processing. Sleep on a decision before making it. Transactive memory involves interactions with both technology and fellow humans to build social relationships and to continue to grow cognitively. Mnemonic techniques are presented that not only provide a direct means of improving memory, but also provide a good means for cognitive exercise. Even if disease should strike, having a cognitive reserve should forestall the rate of progress of the pathology.

1Kirchheimer, S. (2011). Brain Games. March, 26. 

© Douglas Griffith and, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.