April 20, 2024

Elderly Adults’ Reliance on Trust Puts Them at Greater Risk of Scams

Financial scams targeting the elderly cost older adults more than $28 billion each year, with nearly three-quarters of that money being stolen by individuals known to the victims. New research suggests that this vulnerability may be due, in part, to older adults having a harder time overcoming their initial impressions of trustworthiness when that trust is violated. As a result, they are more susceptible to deception and scams.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Florida, highlights the importance of elderly adults being cautious of their first impressions. Instead, they should focus on whether or not someone’s actions truly earn their trust or if they are potentially harmful. Making decisions about trustworthiness in a split second is an unreliable way to make sound decisions in the long run, especially for older adults.

Marilyn Horta, Ph.D., a research scientist at the University of Florida and the first author of the study, emphasizes the need to pay attention to a person’s behavior rather than relying solely on initial perceptions. This applies to all individuals, but it is particularly important for older adults.

The research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, involved a gambling game where participants had to choose cards from a deck that could either gain or lose points with each draw. Trustworthy and untrustworthy faces were paired with these card decks. Both younger and older adults initially preferred choosing cards represented by trustworthy faces. However, when they began experiencing losses with these supposedly trustworthy cards, younger adults were quicker to learn from their mistakes and switch to a different deck. On the other hand, older adults took longer to perform well as they held onto their initial impressions of trust, ignoring the fact that the cards were bad.

The study also highlights the risk of fraud from family members. Older adults may not pick up on changes in their family members’ behavior if they start acting untrustworthy. This lack of adjustment to new situations puts them at greater risk.

Natalie Ebner, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Florida and co-author of the study, emphasizes the importance of staying aware, even if individuals believe they can trust someone based on previous experiences. While accumulated life experience can be an advantage in old age, there may be situations where relying solely on past experiences leads to the wrong decisions.

In conclusion, the research highlights the susceptibility of older adults to financial scams, which are often perpetrated by individuals they trust. It is crucial for older adults to be cautious of their initial impressions and to focus on individuals’ actions rather than relying solely on appearances. By staying aware and attentive, they can reduce the risk of falling victim to scams and deception.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it