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A recent NPR report told of a study by psychologist Shelley Taylor (UCLA) suggesting that older adults fall victim to fraud and scams more easily than younger adults do. Physiological, psychological, and societal changes that occur as we age are to blame. This study may shed light on why older adults are frequent targets for financial scams and why the average age of fraud victims is 69.

Taylor brought together two groups of adults, the first in their 20s and the second over 55 and showed them pictures of trustworthy, neutral, and untrustworthy faces. The older adults rated the trustworthy and neutral faces the same as the younger group. But when it came to rating the untrustworthy faces, older adults viewed them more positively than younger adults. This difference can be attributed to the fact that older adults have less activity in the part of the brain that processes risk and subtle danger.

As we become older, we go through a number of psychological and societal changes associated with aging. Our current society creates a bias on negativity, especially as we age. Older adults many times feel like they must adopt the mantra of living positively after a certain point in life. This is a wonderful thing, but it can mean being too trustworthy to the extent of putting yourself in harm’s way. Additionally, older adults, often feeling isolated, are more likely to trust a friendly stranger taking an interest in them, no matter the reasoning. A common clue that a senior may be a victim of elder financial abuse may be the mention of a “new best friend” or “sweetheart.”

There are many dangers facing older adults that CTN volunteers must be aware of. As volunteers working with this population, we try our best to keep a close eye out for warning signs of fraud and scams, but we don’t often think of the possibility of elder abuse among the seniors we work with. By California law, a volunteer working in the senior population is a mandated reporter of elder abuse. What this means is that, if you suspect that one of your senior students may be a victim of elder abuse, you have an obligation to report it to Adult Protective Services. CTN has put together two webinars that outline how to report and prevent elder abuse and financial abuse. These webinars, which are mandatory for all BTOP volunteers working in senior centers, can be found below.

Recognizing and reporting elder abuse:

Recognizing and preventing elder financial abuse:

Why It’s Easier to Scam the Elderly

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Arielle Helffrich