My Mother was a bright intelligent woman who retained much of her cognitive function until she died at the age of ninety-four. But, I think it was when she was in her late seventies that we discovered she was falling prey to “sweepstakes winner” scams. You know the kind I mean. You send in one hundred dollars and they guarantee one of five gifts will be sent to you: a big screen TV, cruise, jewelry etc. So my Mom sent in her money and got a tiny chip of a sapphire necklace worth virtually nothing. My sister had to have a talk with her, and from then on she did not engage in conversations with strange people on the phone or at the door.
(pic: Costarican Times)
A close relative of mine in his late eighties was still being “persuaded” to send money to charities even though he no longer could afford to give any money away.
For a while the thought was that our parent’s generation, the “greatest generation”, was just too generous and trusting. The thinking was that the problem would disappear with the passing of this generation.
Unfortunately, now we know that as we age there are physiological changes that occur in our brains that make us more susceptible to these types of scams. The latest research shows that it may not be just the result of an aging brain, but more pointedly the changes in a specific part of the brain. According to a research study from the University of Iowa, the problem may be deterioration in the part of our brain that governs what we believe and what we doubt.
“The current study provides the first direct evidence beyond anecdotal reports that damage to the vmPFC (ventromedial prefrontal cortex) increases credulity. Indeed, this specific deficit may explain why highly intelligent vmPFC patients can fall victim to seemingly obvious fraud schemes,” the researchers wrote in the paper published in a special issue of the journalFrontiers in Neuroscience.
(pic: Costarican Times)
According to AARP, roughly one-third of all scam victims are sixty-five or older though that age group is only one-eighth of the population. The six most common scams?
Romance: Also known as the “Catfish” phenomenon. Scammers cruise dating websites, sweet talk potential victims until they can get money out of them. Young and old often fall for this one.
Charity: Older people often are the first to open their hearts and wallets to fake charities, especially when veterans, sick children or disasters are used as the bait.
Grandparents: After gathering information from obituaries, Facebook or other websites, scammers call grandparents in the middle of the night claiming to be a grandchild in distress while traveling and in dire need of money.
Home Repair: Less than trustworthy contractors show up at the door claiming that while driving by they noticed repairs that need immediate attention.
Health Care: Medicare benefits are a prime target for scammers. Medical identity theft as well as come-ons offering free medical supplies or threatening loss of Medicare coverage are also a problem.
Investment: We have all seen these. Come for a free lunch or dinner at a nice restaurant and we will tell you all about our great financial product. Some of these are legitimate some not. Or, telemarketers call offering “risk free” investments.
Understanding that there is a physiological change in the older brain that may make us more susceptible to scams may help us to understand, rather than to blame, when our parents do something that, to us, looks so silly. Hopefully it will make us more aware of these pitfall as we get older. Approach situations with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Remember the Seinfeld episode when Jerry volunteers to be a companion to an elderly man? Now that’s a healthy dose of skepticism!