Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why scammers target elderly people

I thought it would be good to make a post about why so many elderly people fall victim to scams.  This is not a new fact and the government, predominantly Trading standards, are doing good work at raising awareness of the issue but I felt it might be beneficial to explain why it might happen. 

The reason why scammers target elderly people so aggressively has to do with cost effectiveness to the scammer. When the scammer invests the time to go around houses, selling bogus products, or calling around, they make sure they target the specific audience that is likely to produce a yield. With age, just as our bodies slowly develop aches and pains and we can no longer drink like we used to and not suffer the effects, we also experience diminishing cognitive functions. This varies across people and is also exacerbated by things like dementia or Alzheimer's, something more prevalent as people age.  Even without those present, ageing affects our information processing power, sometimes also affected by hearing loss, we get more easily confused, need more time to make decisions and so on.  You could say we are no longer so finely tuned as we once were. This is precisely why scammers target elderly people, usually with door-to-door scams that need instant decisions or creating urgency, such as the courier scam. 

Elderly population also might not be so internet savvy, where most of the scam prevention advice lies. Or if they do use the internet, they might not be using social media, again, where this advice is abundant. Even if they are, the amount of the advice that is out there can be overwhelming, therefore it is often after the scam has taken place that they seek help and their family become involved perhaps. 

The problem with the declining cognitive functions is that they decline very slowly and are difficult to diagnose at first. Most people notice when it is happening but, because they were once a competent and intelligent, highly functioning person, they feel ashamed to admit this to their loved ones and they try to hide it.  Some elderly people are also bereaved after a long marriage or have relatives living far from them, making it hard to 'talk things over' with someone who might offer a different perspective or advice.  Loneliness has been found to be a factor in scam compliance across all ages, not just the elderly but this is even more pertinent with regards to ageing population due to other factors that contribute to scam susceptibility mentioned above. 

Scams are now designed to fit almost anyone. Students, working people, businesses, people of certain age, marital status etc... just as much as elderly people and the important thing is to understand WHAT makes us vulnerable.  With age, we acquire experience and wisdom but often 'thinking on our feet' goes.  This is not the end of the world, it just means that you may need to implement some rules in order to protect from scams.  I will mention few tips below but these are by no means exhaustive.  They also apply to anyone, not just the elderly. I have concentrated on door-to-door techniques though. 

1. Always delay decisions.  Go away and give yourself a day to think about anything.  If you are dealing with a salesman that is pushy and tells you the deal is off the table if you don't act straight away - be sure that this is a scam or at least a technique to get you to comply. 

2. Lie. A white lie goes a long way. My favourite is: " I just want to run it past my dad who is a police officer.  Please call me tomorrow." You can bet that if it is a scam - they will not ring you back and if it is a legitimate deal, they will.  Same with people calling you, ask them to tell you who they are and say you will ring them back after you seek advice. 

3. Never buy from people who come to your door.  Ask them to leave you some information and Google the company before you call them back.  If they say they have no information to leave you, it is likely that they rely on aggressive sales tactics. 

4. Ask your neighbours, friends and family for advice before you make a decision to part with your money.  Don't be ashamed to admit you made a mistake or have been scammed.  By talking about it, information is shared and you are more likely to hear of similar scams, which may protect you in the future.  If you don't have many people to talk to, call your council and check with Trading standards or call Citizen's advice.  

It is important to remember that there is nothing wrong about not being sure about something and asking for advice is always good, if nothing, to give you time to think about it.  Often we are put under pressure to buy something we don't want to buy and allowing some time to pass, it is easier to say no, especially when dealing with pushy scammers or salesmen. Often just saying you need to run something past your family will make the scammer leave you alone as they drop people that seem non compliant with their requests.  It is also normal to get confused as we get older and as long as we are aware this is taking place, we can make sure we allow for this by putting simple rules in place.  And my advice always is; if you have even a tiniest doubt - walk away from it.