Contributing Factors

The general public perception is that seniors are more susceptible to financial exploitation, either by a stranger or a trusted family member or friend; because they are cognitively vulnerable, sedentary due to physical disabilities (and thus generally at home to receive telemarketing phone calls), naively trusting, socially isolated, and unsophisticated about financial matters.

This isn’t always the case; and an accurate understanding of the attributes common to elderly victims of scams has public consequences as preventive and intervention measures can be taken based on the identification of persons who are at a higher risk of victimization, before they are targeted for scams.

According to a scientific study published in 2015, called “Correlates of Susceptibility to Scams in Older Adults Without Dementia”, researchers found:

Seniors with less literacy of health and financial matters appeared to be the most susceptible to scams, independent of level of education and income.

  • Healthy and active seniors appear to be equally susceptible to scams. Education and income levels also did not appear to play much of a role in determining which seniors are susceptible.
  • The psychological well-being of a senior was the most critical link of susceptibility to scams. The positive functioning and outlook on one’s life was less susceptible to being taken advantage of by a scammer.
  • The oldest seniors are more at risk for susceptibility to scams than the younger seniors. This could point to other generational differences such as attitudes towards telemarketers or general phone manners, but more research is needed to explore the basis of these age differences.
  • Even among older adults without dementia, cognitive function plays a large role in determining who is susceptible to scams.
  • Even though an older person has not been clinically diagnosed with dementia or other form of cognitive impairment, persons with preclinical dementia or even those without overt cognitive impairment may be at risk.

The research found that knowledge and understanding of both financial and health matters were related to a senior’s vulnerability to scams. According to the research, “older adults with more knowledge of financial concepts and how financial and healthcare institutions work may be less likely to fall for false information that is fed to them by scammers, regardless of their cognitive abilities.”

This discovery is significant as it indicates a possible proactive intervention to reduce the vulnerability of seniors: provide engagement and education on health and financial matters that older persons make every day.

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Additional resources for elder financial fraud can be found here.

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