Less healthy older adults more vulnerable to scams

Monday, 20 November, 2023

Less healthy older adults more vulnerable to scams

A new poll by the University of Michigan shows that people with worse mental or physical health are more likely to experience fraud.

The results from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging suggest that three out of every four adults aged 50 to 80 have experienced a fraud attempt by phone, text, email, mail or online in the last two years. Meanwhile, three in 10 say they’ve been victims of at least one scam.

The poll reveals an especially strong link between an older adult’s health and their vulnerability to scams — both being able to spot one and becoming a victim.

Across the board, people aged 50 to 80 who reported being in fair or poor physical or mental health, those with disabilities and those who rate their memory as fair or poor were more likely than others their age to say they’d experienced fraud.

Whether or not they’d actually experienced fraud, older adults with health issues were more likely to lack confidence in their ability to spot a scam. The results also suggest vulnerability among older adults who live alone or have lower incomes.

“Our findings of a strong connection between scam vulnerability and health adds important new data to ongoing efforts to reduce the devastating toll of scams on older adults’ finances and wellbeing,” said Jeffrey Kullgren, poll director.

In general, 75% of respondents reported experiencing a scam attempt at least once in the last two years, and 39% of this group said the scammers had succeeded in one or more ways.

Specifically, 25% of those who experienced a scam attempt said scammers had compromised their bank or credit card account, or another type of account, 15% said they had an account get hacked, 9% lost money and 3% had their identity stolen.

When the poll team broke down the results by health status among those who had experienced a scam attempt, they found stark differences.

About 50% of older adults who had been targeted by a scam and who called their physical or mental health fair or poor, or said they have a health problem or disability that limits daily activities, reported experiencing fraud, compared with 35% to 38% of those in better health or with no limits on their daily activities.

There was also a gap in scam experiences by income, with 46% of those who have annual household incomes under $60,000 more likely to report that they’d experienced fraud from a scam, compared with 36% of those with higher incomes.

Older adults who said their mental health is fair or poor were much more likely to say that experiencing a scam had a major impact on their financial, mental or physical wellbeing, with 41% saying so compared with 10% of those who rated their mental health as good or excellent.

When the poll team asked older adults about their interest in learning more about how to spot and avoid scams, and their feelings about needing more protection from scams, the response was nearly universal.

In all, 83% of people aged 50 to 80 said they want to know more about how to protect themselves — including 90% of those who said they aren’t very confident they can spot a scam. And 97% of older adults agreed that policymakers need to do more to protect people from scams, while 96% agreed that companies should do more. Even those who said they were confident they can spot a scam, and those who said they had not experienced fraud in the past two years, were just as likely as their peers to agree with these statements.

“It stands to reason that older adults with health challenges experience fraud more than those without these challenges,” said Kathy Stokes, AARP’s director of fraud prevention programs.

“Fraud criminals are master manipulators of emotion, and anyone can experience a scam regardless of age, education or income. When it comes to fraud susceptibility, it’s less about who you are and more about how you are when you are targeted.”

Image credit: iStock.com/Tero Vesalainen

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