Current Weather
The Spy FM

Why It’s Easier To Scam The Elderly

Filed by KOSU News in Science.
December 6, 2012

Lots of scams come by phone or by mail, but when the scam artist is right in front of you researchers say the clues are in the face.

“A smile that is in the mouth but doesn’t go up to the eyes; an averted gaze; a backward lean” are some of the ways deception may present itself, says Shelley Taylor, a psychologist at UCLA.

Taylor wanted to know if older people recognized these visual cues as readily as younger people. She brought 119 adults over 55 into the research lab along with 24 younger adults in their 20s. Both groups were shown 30 photographs, each depicting either a trustworthy, a neutral, or an untrustworthy face.

“The older adults rated the trustworthy faces and the neutral faces exactly the same as the younger adults did, but when it got to the cues of untrustworthiness they didn’t process those cues as well,” she says. “They rated those people as much more trustworthy than the younger adults did.”

In a small follow-up study using brain imaging, Taylor’s findings suggest older adults may have less activity in the very area of the brain that processes risk and subtle danger. Another possible reason older adults don’t pick up on warning signs, she says, is an increasing bias against negativity.

“It’s part of this effort to make life more positive after a certain point in life, which is normally just a wonderful thing,” Shelley says. “Older adults are really great emotional regulators, but it leaves them with this particular vulnerability so that they don’t recognize untrustworthy cues when they should be.”

Junk Mail And Other Scams

A survey last year from the AARP analyzed the behavior of 723 victims of fraud and compared them to the general public. The survey found the average age of fraud victims was 69.

“Fraud victims tend to be much more likely to do things like open junk mail, listen to unknown callers on the phone who are telemarketing,” says Doug Shadel, who’s with AARP in Washington state and who headed the survey. “They’re more open to putting themselves in sales situations and this explains in part why they may be defrauded.”

They are also inclined to believe those too-good-to-be true promises like a guaranteed 50 percent return on investment with no risk. Ironically, it was older men with experience in investing who lost the most. Women were more vulnerable to petty fraud — things like sending in $50 to collect on that $50,000 sweepstakes they just won.

The current biggest scam, says Shadel, a former fraud investigator who wrote a book titled Outsmarting the Scam Artist: Useful Tips for Protecting Yourself and Loved Ones From the Most Clever Cons, are gold coins often advertised in print and broadcast.

“They’ll say during periods of economic instability you can’t trust the stock market, can’t trust the bond market, the thing you can trust is precious metals,” he says.

The genius of the scam is you actually receive the coins. It’s just that you’ve paid up to five times their market value. Scam artists today, says Shadel, are aided enormously by technology that enables them to simply press a button and send hundreds of thousands of e-mails.

The best defense, he says, is don’t go for any of it. Throw out the junk mail. Don’t answer unknown callers. And forget about those free lunches and dinners that promise great options for investment. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

Listen Live Now!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

10AM to 11PM On Point

On Point

On Point unites distinct and provocative voices with passionate discussion as it confronts the stories that are at the center of what is important in the world today. Leaving no perspective unchallenged, On Point digs past the surface and into the core of a subject, exposing each of its real world implications.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center