Beware Of Elder Fraud - Exploiting the Senior Population
One of the most insidious types of
non-violent crime that occurs in American society is “elder fraud,” or
deliberately duping seniors out of their hard-earned money by involving them
in a scam, often via a fraudulent telemarketing pitch.
According to the
National Fraud Information Center, more than a third (34%) of all victims of
telemarketing fraud who reported these incidents were over 60 years old, and
it is believed that the vast majority of victims do not report these crimes.
While fraud can happen to anyone, elder fraud is particularly destructive
because seniors are rarely able to recover financially from fraudulent
While there are many factors that contribute to seniors’
being taken by these scams (and being the most frequently targeted demographic
as a result), including the fact that they tend to be home to receive
telemarketing calls and they are often afraid to appear impolite by hanging up,
there may also be a psychological effect of the aging of the brain that also
contributes to the problem.
According to recent research funded by the National Institute on Aging by Dr.
Stacey Wood, a neuropsychologist and assistant professor at Scripps College in
Claremont, California, there is evidence that older adults process negative
information differently than their younger counterparts. In a recent experiment
with collaborator Dr. Mike Kisley, both older and younger adults were shown a
series of negative images (such as dead animals) or positive images (such as
bowls of ice cream), and the degree to which brain activity increased was
recorded. Simply put, older adults are more likely to be less responsive to
negative or unpleasant information, making them happier people – but also making
them more likely to miss the “red flags” of a skilled fraudulent telemarketer.
Wood says, “As a group, older adults are less likely to be depressed and less
affected by negative or unpleasant information. On the whole, while that is
great news and perhaps something to look forward to, our research suggests that
these changes in mood also have the potential to impact decision-making,
sometimes with damaging results.”
Wood suggests that older adults be wary of the following:
· Solicitations that are presented with an impending deadline. When
time-pressure increases, people tend to become less analytical and more
· Solicitations under the guise of political or religious organizations.
When emotions are involved, impulsiveness increases.
· Solicitations that arrive at “non-optimal” times of day - that is,
times when older adults will likely be processing in less detail. Con artists
tend to target people in the afternoon and evening.
· Solicitations that are accompanied by fine print or lots of details.
Older adults often fail to read fine print and process other seemingly minute
Wood and Kisley’s research also involved the effects of gambling losses on
younger and older adults. Wood says, “Younger adults learn very early to stay
clear of the decks with high losses. Older adults are able to tolerate the
losses and are more willing to risk future draws in hopes of a high payout.
Indeed, older adults tend to do as well as younger adults by the end of the
game. But when playing a "rigged" game, they may not be so fortunate.”