According to the National Council on Aging, victims of elder financial abuse lose more than $2.6 billion each year as a result of these crimes.
Unfortunately, financial scams are all too common — regardless of the victim’s age. But now a new study suggests seniors may be especially vulnerable to financial scams because of biological changes in their brains.
During the study, published in the Journals of Gerontology, researchers evaluated 13 seniors who had been victims of financial scams and 13 seniors who had been exposed to these scams but avoided them. They did behavioral tests on study participants to measure their memory, attention skills and financial reasoning. They also performed MRI tests on each participant’s brain. Each person also self-reported their mood and social functioning.
The study found financial scam victims had more thinning in two areas of the brain associated with processing certain emotional and social information. There also was less connectivity between these two crucial areas of the brain, and victims of financial scams reported more anger and hostility than peers who avoided these scams.
Since these brain regions are responsible for emotional awareness and understanding social cues, seniors who have differences in these parts of the brain may be more at risk for wrongdoing on the part of scammers, the study suggests. Researchers say identifying these brain changes could be a marker for pinpointing which seniors have a high risk of being financially exploited.
However, it’s also important to note the sample size of this study was so small that we can’t draw any real conclusions. We need to do more research and perform larger studies to more clearly understand the connection between brain changes, social-emotional function in seniors and how this may make them more vulnerable for financial scams compared to peers who avoid these scams.
If you’re a concerned family member, caregiver or a senior, here’s how to protect yourself and those you love from potential scams:
- Be wary of anyone who promises a prize or great investment that sounds too good to be true, especially if they call you on the phone and you’re unfamiliar with them and their company. Also, be cautious about anyone who pressures or intimidates you over the phone.
- Never give your social security number or other personal and financial information online or over the phone to a stranger. If someone says they’re from your bank, hang up and call your bank’s customer service number just to be sure.
- Caregivers and relatives who don’t live with an elderly relative should pay attention to changes in their loved one’s behavior. If your loved one has become isolated from other family members or close friends or if you notice unfamiliar people around them who are now actively involved in handling their personal affairs, you should ask questions and step in, if necessary.
- According to a Metlife study, 34 percent of articles related to elder financial abuse involved relatives, friends or neighbors, so seniors only should surround themselves with people they trust. If a long-lost relative shows up on your doorstep or a close friend or family member all of sudden becomes more controlling or even verbally and physically abusive, seek help or call the authorities.
Being vigilant and watching for these signs can make you less vulnerable to financial scams. For more information on the latest elder scams, visit the AARP’s Scams and Fraud page or the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse website.cipro