Why Seniors are More Vulnerable to Fraud


The more you learn, the better you’ll be defended against fraud.

It’s fairly common to believe that while a scam might happen next door, it certainly won’t happen any closer to home. But unfortunately, it happens every day. Who wouldn’t want to win a trip to the Bahamas or get an exclusive deal on an investment? That’s exactly what con artists count on to help them steal money from senior men and women across the U.S.

In a 2014 report, “The Causes and Consequences of Financial Fraud Among Older Americans,” researchers from DePaul University and Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center at Rush University Medical Center explain that financial fraud is on the rise and particularly harmful for senior citizens.

This report, prepared for the 16th Annual Joint Meeting of the Retirement Research Consortium, says the reasons why seniors are susceptible to fraud aren’t totally clear. But the tactics that these scammers use are more easily defined, and that knowledge can help you guard against becoming the next victim.


The signs of fraud aren’t always easy to see, but you can learn to spot them.

The Psychology of Fraud

Anthony Pratkanis, psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, explains in an AARP Fraud Watch Network video, that there are four methods scammers use to manipulate their victims. There’s phantom fixation, social proof, authority, and scarcity. And while some might seem blatantly obvious from the outside, experts say that the situation can be very different when you are on the receiving end.

Phantom fixation exists where the scammer makes up some fantasy prize or windfall that the victim would win. For example, that trip to the Bahamas or a chance to buy something valuable on the cheap.

Social proof is an element of everyday advertising, but criminals use it, too. It’s the testimonials of people who have succeeded – men and women who have won that prize. But unlike above-board advertising, scammers don’t rely on real testimonials to make their claim.

Authority is another way to support fraud. When the person on the other end of the telephone can convince the victim that he’s someone to be trusted, or that he knows his business, he’s takes on a position of authority.

And then there’s the scarcity tactic. This method is used to create a false sense of urgency. If you don’t act now, you will lose your chance to win that vacation you’ve always wanted.


Con artists can target anyone at any age.

Fraud Can Happen to Anyone

The susceptibility of seniors to fraud is still being researched. Part of it is thought to be related to the natural neurological changes that happen with age. USA Today explains that younger brains tend to react differently than older brains when faced with a choice between whether someone is trustworthy or not.

But of course that’s not a broad and sweeping rule. In fact, The Causes and Consequences of Financial Fraud Among Older Americans report reveals that once a senior has successfully avoided fraud, she is less likely to fall for a scam in the future.

There are four other sub methods that can help you identify a scammer, and they’re more obvious once you know what to look for. Those include reciprocity, similarity, consistency, and contrast. These are ways that the scammer manipulates victims once he’s got their attention.

Reciprocity happens when the scammer offers his victim a token of some sort to create a sense of obligation. Maybe it’s a free financial portfolio evaluation, which, of course, shows the scammer exactly how much money the victim has and where it’s located.

Similarity is a con artist’s way of making himself seem like a friend. Maybe he says he’s from the same town, or shares the same interests. Anything to make himself appear to be less of a threat. Consistency allows the adept scammer to twist a victim’s words against him, and contrast is a way of “proving” that what the scammer offers is worth more than it really is.

How to Protect Yourself

The report lists six questions to ask yourself, which can help determine whether you’re more or less susceptible to fraud.

  • Do you always answer the phone, regardless of who is calling?
  • Do you have a difficult time ending a phone call, even with a stranger?
  • If something sounds like an impossibly great deal, is it likely to be impossible?
  • Do you believe that people over 65 are fraud targets?
  • Do you listen to telemarketers?
  • Is your telephone number listed on the national Do Not Call registry?

Scammers rely on people who will answer the phone, and who will have a difficult time ending the call. They also thrive on victims who believe in miracle deals, and who aren’t aware that seniors are, indeed, fraud targets.

The national Do Not Call registry should help guard against some telemarketers and scammers, but not all.

If you believe that you have been a victim of fraud, there are resources for reporting it. The United States Department of Justice lists this essential contact information:

General Fraud: Contact the FBI at 1-202-324-3000 or https://tips.fbi.gov/

Health Care, Medicare and Medicaid fraud: Contact the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-HHS-TIPS or http://oig.hhs.gov/

Consumer Fraud and Identity Theft: Contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP or 1-877-ID-THEFT.

Securities Fraud: Contact the Securities and Exchange Commission at 1-800-SEC-0330 or email at [email protected]

Mail, Lottery, or Sweepstakes fraud: Contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 1-800-372-8347. If the fraud is made using the Internet, contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://www.ic3.gov/

Disaster-Related Fraud: Contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 1-877-623-3423 or email at [email protected]

State and Local Fraud: Contact your local police department of the State Attorney General’s Office.

Fraud can happen to anyone at any age. But seniors are targeted, and unfortunately, many fall prey to con artists. Some victims have lost thousands of dollars, and some have lost their life savings.

But you can protect yourself against being victimized. Be alert to the dangers. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Never give your personal information to anyone that you don’t know to be legitimate. And finally, never pay for something that should be free. Publisher’s Clearing House wouldn’t ask you to pay to claim a prize, and neither would any other reputable business.

NewRetirement is committed to offering resources to plan for and enjoy a financially healthy and happy retirement. We have financial calculators, referral services for planning professionals, and much more. When you’ve worked your whole life to create security, you owe it to yourself to protect it. We can help.

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