It is well known that senior citizens are more prone to fraud than younger individuals. Research indicates that seniors lose an estimated $2.9 billion to fraud each and every year. Now, MetLife’s Mature Market Institute may have found the reason why. They have conducted a study with the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech into physical brain differences in seniors and the results were astonishing.
The Brain Research
Shelley Taylor, a professor of psychology at the University of California Los Angeles, led the research project. She became interested in the topic when her father was tricked out of $17,000 by two men who convinced him to empty his bank account. Her aunt was also a victim of a fraudulent scheme when she agreed to buy diamond earrings via mail that turned out to be glass.
Taylor’s research was recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. She found that the “fear centers” of the brain do not work the same in the elderly, and the older generation is often unable to distinguish between trustworthy and untrustworthy people.
“You know the…little sense that something is not quite right? …That’s what the older adults aren’t getting,” she explains.
Visual cues that normally create suspicion in people do not have the same effect on the elderly. When Taylor looked further at the brain activity of the elderly in real time, she found that the area called the “anterior insula” was not as active in seniors as it was for younger people when they examined pictures of those who looked untrustworthy (i.e. had obviously false smiles).
While there is no definitive reason for the anterior insula not working as well as it used to, experts suggest that this diminished capacity allows the elderly to be more positive about life and this is “good for mental health,” though perhaps bad for avoiding scams.
Prevention to Limit Elder Financial Exploitation
Further research will be conducted regarding people’s responses to scams that occur face to face. Until then, Taylor suggests to “stop it at the source” by not agreeing to anything over the phone, through the mail or at your front door. Another solution would be to protect the very assets that scammers are trying to get to through proper estate planning.
In an article written for Medical Express, Taylor wisely summarizes that the biggest practical take-away from the research for seniors is: “be careful what you do to your money.” One of the best ways to act carefully with finances is by creating legal documentation to protect your assets such as wills, trusts, and powers of attorney.
For help with these matters in San Diego, please set up a free consultation with the Law Office of Scott C. Soady to discuss your estate planning needs today.