Is An Aging Brain More Susceptible to Online Scams?
The Federal Trade Commission’s recent report on scams facing people age 70+ is terrifying. Whether you have loved ones around that age or you are that age yourself, the risk is real and happening all around you.
According to the FTC, not only are people age 70+ scammed more often, but they are also scammed out of more money. 1 in 4 seniors (70+) are scammed yearly and the median (which isn’t even the upper bracket) amount lost is $9,000 – compared that to people of all ages only losing around $2,000. What explains this phenomenon?
According to scientist’s, part of this susceptibility to scams may be due to changes in the brain, correlated with growing older. Learn what those changes are, how older people are scammed, and how you can protect yourselves and your family.
Aging Brain More Susceptible to a Grandparent Scam?
When we are young, our brains learn and grow at a rapid rate. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to handle change and new information throughout life. When we reach middle age and older, our brains still display neuroplasticity but get worse at filtering out irrelevant information.
Another component of these changes is that life experience tends to be remembered as positive. This is especially true for older people. When given new information, an older person will regard new facts in a more positive light and may assume a better outcome. This phenomenon is called “positivity bias” or the “Pollyanna Principle” and has been studied in psychology. It occurs more often in older adults than young people. Unfortunately, someone who focuses on the positive is a scammers dream come true, as thieves of this type dangle an illusive offer or promise that they never intend to fulfill.
Types of Scams Targeting the Elderly
This is when scammers call, email, or message (on social media or through any site or app) a senior citizen and pretend to be their grandchild.
What is the catch?
They claim to be urgently in need of money. Often these calls come at night, and the caller makes the situation sound essential and time sensitive, instructing the grandparent where to send money or wire funds to. Caught off guard and worried about their grandchild, many grandparents fall for it, which is why these scams are surprisingly successful. The scammer may also pretend to be a grandchild’s lawyer, an arresting officer, or doctor, etc.
These scams are widespread. Almost everyone receives these fraudulent calls, during which they are informed that they owe money to the I.R.S. for unpaid taxes. The voice on the other end of the line sounds authoritative and intense, which intimidates the caller into believing the recording (or live call) is legitimate.
Older people might fear they’ve made a mistake on past tax filings and give away money to a scammer. They might verify personal information (bank details, address, SSN, DL number, etc.) or even pay a fake fee and expose their credit card details. They might later fall victim to identity theft if the scammer uses their private information, or sells them on the dark web.
Lottery Winning Scams
A caller says that a senior has won the lottery or sweepstakes of some sort. They can “claim the winnings and enjoy their luck” as soon as they pay a fee.
Unfortunately, the fee is a scam and credit card information will be stolen and misused. They will never receive any lottery winnings, but their identity might be compromised through identity theft if they verify any private information (address, name, SSN, DL number, etc.).
How Can Seniors Protect Themselves from Online Scams
- Shred financial documents, so they don’t fall into the wrong hands.
- Never send or share your SSN or financial information by email, text, or phone. If you are concerned about an older family member, warn them not to share their private information by phone or email, even if someone calls them with a (too good to be true) offer or claims to be from their bank.
- Share articles like this with them. If they don’t use the internet much, print a tangible copy.
- Check in with them regularly and ask if they’ve received any unusual or surprising messages or calls.
- Encourage older adults to review bank and financial records, as well as credit reports, or to give that task to another trusted family member.
- Find out what information strangers and scammers might be able to find online. Scan for a name, phone number, username, image, and more.
Social Catfish is a high-powered proprietary algorithm based search engine, which scours all top search engines quickly and thoroughly. Warn your family members that scammers might take the information they share on social media and use it to trick them (for instance, by impersonating grandchildren for a grandparent scam).
Protecting our loved ones from scammers and thieves is essential, but the risks are magnified as people reach the second stage of life. Don’t let your parents, grandparents, or yourself fall victim to a scam. Many think it won’t happen to them until it does! Scammers are very good at their trickery, as they do it all the time.
Ready to know what the internet knows about you? Search today and give yourself the tools to take private information about you off of the ‘net! Social Catfish helps people protect their privacy and avoid being tricked by scammers and catfishers.