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Study shows seniors at risk from rising scams

UPI – Amid the rise in financial fraud and scams that target older adults, a new study found that many more individuals are vulnerable to them than presently recognised, posing serious public health and economic threats to society.

In a behavioural experiment mimicking a real-world government imposter, a considerable number of older adults engaged without scepticism. The results indicated that many, including those without cognitive impairment, are susceptible to fraud and scams. The findings were published on Friday in JAMA Network Open. “It is critical that we as a society address the significant challenges associated with elder fraud, and this requires a better understanding of the scope of the problem and why some older adults are vulnerable,” said the study’s senior author Patricia Boyle.

Such awareness “is absolutely essential for developing strategies to protect older adults from bad actors”, professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences Patricia Boyle at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, told UPI via e-mail.

“Ultimately, our goal is to inform prevention efforts so that we can protect and support the well-being of older adults and individuals of all ages,” she said, noting that “in addition to financial losses, victimisation also can lead to serious health consequences, including hospitalisation and depression.”

In the study, the authors pointed out that “research on the vulnerability of older adults to fraud and scams relies almost exclusively on self-reported data, which have several intrinsic limitations. Thus, how older adults truly respond to fraud attempts remains unclear.”


To gain a better understanding of the problem a fictitious government agency reached out to older adult communities in the greater Chicago metropolitan area from October to December 2021 about “a potential compromise of personal information relevant to their Social Security and Medicare benefits.”

Those contacted were among older adults participating in the Rush Memory and Ageing Project, an ongoing cohort study of chronic conditions of ageing. The experiment included a total of 644 older adults – 501 female and 143 male – with an average age of 85.6 years.

“Participants were exposed to deceptive materials through mailers, e-mails and phone calls by a live agent,” according to the study.

“Based on the phone call data, participants were classified into three groups: no engagement (participants who did not answer the phone or call in); engagement (those who answered or called in but were sceptical about the legitimacy of the outreach and did not give away personal information); and conversion (participants who answered or called in without scepticism, or confirmed that they did not change their personal information, or provided the last four digits of their Social Security number).”