Are older adults more vulnerable to fraud? What psychologists have discovered about who’s most vulnerable and when

About 1 in 6 Americans are 65 years or olderand this percentage is predicted to growOlder people often hold positions of power, have amassed savings for retirement over their lifetime, and make vital financial and health-related decisions – all of which make them attractive targets for financial exploitation.

In 2021, in line with the FBI, there have been greater than 90,000 elderly victims of fraud. These cases led to 1.7 billion US dollar lossa rise of 74% in comparison with 2020. However, this could possibly be a big underestimation, as embarrassment or lack of understanding prevents some victims from reporting.

Financial exploitation is one of the crucial common types of elder abuse. Perpetrators are sometimes people from the victims’ immediate social environment – ​​relations, carers or friends – but they may also be strangers.

When older adults develop into victims of economic fraud, lose more cash than younger victims. These losses can devastating consequencesespecially since older people have limited time for recreation, which drastically limits their independence, health and well-being.

But older adults have been largely neglected in research on this growing sort of crime. We are Psychologists who study social cognition And decision makingAnd Our research laboratory on the University of Florida goals to know the aspects that shape vulnerability to deception in maturity and old age.

Definition of vulnerability

Financial exploitation involves a variety of exploitative tactics similar to coercion, manipulation, undue influence and sometimes some type of deception.

Most current research focuses on the flexibility of individuals to tell apart between truth and lies during interpersonal communication. However, deception occurs in lots of contexts – increasingly also on the Internet.

Our lab conducts laboratory experiments and real-world studies to measure vulnerability under various conditions: investment games, lie/truth scenarios, phishing emails, text messages, fake news, and deepfakes – fabricated videos or images created using artificial intelligence.

To study how people reply to deception, we use measurements similar to surveys, brain imaging, behavior, eye movements, and heart rate. We also collect health-related biomarkers, similar to carriers of Gene variants that increase the chance of Alzheimer's disease in an effort to discover people who find themselves particularly vulnerable.

And our work shows that the flexibility of older people to detect deception depends not only on their individual characteristics, but additionally on how they’re targeted.

A figure with two circles and an arrow between them. One circle shows symbols that represent an individual's vulnerability to deception - such as a brain and a walking stick - while the other circle shows symbols for types of deception, such as emails or text messages.
Vulnerability depends not only on the person but additionally on the sort of fraud.
Natalie Ebner and Didem Pehlivanoglu

Individual risk aspects

Better cognition, higher social and emotional skills, and higher brain health are all related to reduced susceptibility to deception.

Cognitive functions, similar to how quickly our brain processes information and the way well we remember it, decrease with age and influence decision-making. For example, in people aged around 70 years or older, a decline in analytical considering is related to reduced ability to detect false reports.

In addition, poor memory performance in old age is related to greater vulnerability to email phishing. In addition, in line with recent ResearchThis association is especially pronounced in older adults who carry a gene variant that may be a genetic risk factor for developing Alzheimer's disease later in life. In fact, some research suggests that greater financial exploitability than an early marker of disease-related cognitive decline.

Social and emotional influences are also crucial. A negative mood can increase an individual’s ability to detect lies, while positive mood amongst very old Age can affect an individual's ability to detect fake news.

Lack of support and loneliness increase vulnerability to deception. Social isolation through the COVID-19 pandemic has led to Increasing dependence on online platformsand older adults with lower digital literacy are more vulnerable to fraudulent emails and robocalls.

An elderly woman and an elderly man are sitting outside at a table with an open laptop in front of them.
Isolation through the COVID-19 pandemic makes older people more vulnerable to online fraud.
ilkercelik/E+ via Getty Images

Finally, the reactions of an individual’s brain and body play a vital role of their susceptibility to deception. An vital factor is interoceptive awareness: the flexibility to accurately read the signals of our own body, like a “gut feeling”. This awareness correlates with higher lie detection in older adults.

Accordingly a primary studyFinancially exploited older adults had a significantly smaller insula – a brain region critical for integrating body signals with environmental stimuli – than older adults who were exposed to the identical threat but avoided it. Reduced insula activity can also be related to greater difficulties Pick up clues that make someone seem less trustworthy.

Types of effective fraud

Not every deception is equally effective on everyone.

Our results show that email phishing that relied on quid pro quo—people's tendency to pay back what they've received from one other person—was more practical amongst older adults. Younger adults, then again, were more prone to fall for phishing emails that relied on scarcity: people are inclined to view a possibility as more precious after they're told it's in limited supply. For example, an email might inform you that a coin collection from the Fifties is obtainable at a very discounted price for those who buy it inside the following 24 hours.

There can also be evidence that as we become old, now we have more difficulty recognizing the “wolf in sheep’s clothing”: someone who appears trustworthy but behaves untrustworthy. a card gamewe found that older adults were more prone to select decks of cards with trustworthy-looking faces in comparison with their younger counterparts, although these decks consistently yielded negative payoffs. Even after learning about unreliable behavior, older adults found it harder to beat their first impressions.

Reducing vulnerability

In order to forestall victims, it is crucial to discover those that are particularly vulnerable to financial exploitation in old age.

We consider interventions needs to be tailored relatively than a one-size-fits-all approach. For example, machine learning algorithms could someday determine essentially the most dangerous sorts of misleading messages encountered by specific groups—similar to in text messages, emails, or on social media platforms—and issue immediate warnings. Black and Hispanic consumers are more prone to develop into victims of attacksdue to this fact, there’s also an urgent need for interventions that resonate with their communities.

Prevention measures may benefit from a holistic approach that helps older people reduce their vulnerability to fraud. Training in financial health And digital competence are vital, but additionally programs for Combating loneliness.

People of all ages must keep these lessons in mind when interacting with online content or strangers – but not only then. Unfortunately, financial exploitation often comes from people near the victim.

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