Study: Psychologically Vulnerable Seniors at Greater Risk of Fraud

Tim Watt  |  September 25, 2013

Financial fraud is a major issue many older adults face. Because they're perceived to be more trusting and less technologically adept, seniors are often targeted by scammers. A new study finds that older adults who are "psychologically vulnerable," meaning they are living with depression or other mental health issues, are even more likely to fall prey to these schemes.

Who is at risk
Researchers from Wayne State University and the Illinois Institute of Technology examined 4,440 individuals to assess how often they had been duped by financial fraud scams, such as telemarketing schemes, fake home repairs, fake checks, identity theft and more. They found that older adults who had the highest levels of depression and the lowest levels of social needs fulfillment experienced a 225 percent increase in the risk of fraud prevalence compared to those who were less psychologically vulnerable.

"This supports our theory that depressive symptoms and lack of social needs fulfillment have an effect on fraud prediction, and serves as a reminder to clinical gerontologists how psychological vulnerability can affect older adults' lives in a variety of ways," said Dr. Peter Lichtenberg of Wayne State University's Institute of Gerontology.

The team of researchers suggested that doctors assess patients who fit into this high-risk demographic to see how vulnerable they are to financial fraud. Doctors should do this as part of their regular checkups when visiting with older adults.

How you can help
If you're a family caregiver for an older adult, it's important you take time to review signs of financial fraud schemes. Remind your loved one to never give out personal information, including credit card or social security numbers, to someone with whom they're unfamiliar, even if that individual promises not to share the information or use it in a nefarious way.

Seniors who use technology to keep in touch with family and friends must also be on the lookout for online schemes. If your loved one uses an email provider, it may be useful to look at some of the messages that have automatically been filtered into the spam box, as this will give him or her a good idea of what fraudulent emails may look like.

Older adults living with dementia may need your assistance attending to financial matters. If you feel your loved one is incapable of paying bills or taking care of other important finance-related tasks, it may be best to schedule a meeting with a lawyer to talk about becoming a representative for your senior family member. 

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