Vulnerability of elderly to scams may have cause
For a long time I have thought that elderly are more susceptible to being conned and cheated by scams because they come from an earlier era when people were more trusting of each other.
But it turns out there may be more involved than that.
I have often over the years received phone calls from older readers asking whether I thought something was a scam or not. For example, I have heard several times about a scam involving a telephone call from someone claiming to be a friend of person's grandson or granddaughter.
The caller says the young person is in trouble and has wrongly been put in jail. They are trying to raise bail money and ask the grandparents to wire them the needed money. If the grandparents bite on the scam, then they usually get follow-up calls asking for even more money to help their “grandchildren.”
Most of us would think this is suspicious and would want to investigate it before going forward. But a surprising number of people fall for this scam, just as they do other scams that rely on individuals having unsuspicious trust. The elderly have been found to be particularly vulnerable and can be hit repeatedly.
Another example involves workmen who come to an elderly person's home and proposes to do some kind of home repair. They ask for money in advance and then disappear, never doing the work. Or maybe a schemer claims to be a bank examiner who needs the elderly person's help to check into bank fraud. They take the person to their bank and clean out their account. Or someone asks them to invest their money in a great deal and they lose their life savings.
Con people use these schemes repeatedly. They know a certain percentage of people will fall for them.
According to a study done jointly by Metlife, the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the Center for Gerontology, older Americans lose $2.9 billion a year to scams. Many of them are in their 80's.
When we hear about fraud against the elderly, most of us probably just shrug it off as people being naive. Certainly that has been the accepted official explanation for many years.
But NBC News reported recently that research indicates it could be about more that naïvety.
The research was done by Shelley Taylor, who teaches psychology at the University of California Los Angeles.
She believes there is a change in the way elderly people deal with fear and suspicion.
She calls it the “uh-oh” sense – “the little sense that something is not quite right.” Some people call it “street smarts.”
Two studies were conducted by her to evaluate how people ranging from those in their 20's to those in the 80's react to people's faces and judge them for trustworthiness, based on recognized indicators.
Those who were older tended to miss facial clues that indicated lack of trustworthiness.
“Their brains are not saying ‘be wary,' as the brains of young adults are,” the research told NBC.
There is no clear explanation for this, but there is speculation it might be because the elderly tend to view life more positively.
In a way that finding could confirm that the elderly are more trusting, although the reason is not due to when the grew up or what society was like them. It may just be that the elderly, confronting the end of their lives, want to look to the bright side of life rather than the negative side.
Too many of them find out that wanting a positive world doesn't necessarily translate into having a positive world. Instead, they are left financially devastated by those who use this to take advantage of them.