Fear Merchants Using Fright Messaging Target Seniors

As people age, they often become more fearful or paranoid.  Unsavory Internet marketers have figured that out that seniors can exploit this age-related vulnerability.   And they’re doing it with a vengeance.

Studies indicate that those over 65 are 34 percent more likely to have lost money on a financial scam than people in their 40s, according to research by the Stanford Center on Longevity and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s Investor Education Foundation.  This joint study project finds that financial fraud, ranging from Ponzi schemes to online phishing scams and work from home schemes, swindles Americans out of billions of dollars each year to the tune of up to $40 billion to $50 billion each year.  And almost 1 in 20 elderly respondents in a large 2014 study of New York residents reported being financially exploited at some point in their later lifetime. In addition, one estimate says only 1 in 44 financial fraud victims report what has happened, often out of embarrassment or fear that their children will want to take control of their finances.   Financial and online fraud against aging adults are now considered the “crimes of the century” by the National Council on Aging.

Why We Get Fearful as We Get Older

Age-related fears do not develop just because people get weaker as they get older.  We are born pre-installed with fight or flight software called the limbic system. For survival purposes we inherited very limited and raw fear triggers which communicate fear so that we save ourselves from impending doom. But that primal fear is limited to such things as fear of falling, predators and sudden sounds or movements from dark places.  It turns out that much of the paranoia experienced by older persons is genetics-based……and is often magnified by age-related dementia.   The older we get the more fearful we become of our fragility and mortality as well.  The first thing you have to acknowledge is that many of your fears aren’t real…..despite the fact that they feel real.

Because the stresses of health problems, losses and and other major life changes build up as we get older, we tend to become anxious. Some surveys suggest that one in five older adults suffer anxiety symptoms that require treatment. In addition to psychological causes, medical disorders common in older adults can be directly responsible for the anxiety we feel. These include heart disease, neurologic illness, thyroid and other hormone problems. In addition, anxiety can be a drug side effect. And seniors take a lot of medicine.  However, older people often experience a greater sense of vulnerability, so things like heights or big crowds become more of an issue.

The volume of the amygdala, the so-called center of fear in the brain, decreases with age. The frontal cortex, believed to be the area responsible for understanding the thoughts and intentions of others, also diminishes in size more rapidly with age compared to other parts of the brain. older adults are simply worse at determining threats from faces than younger adults. After all, the results held true whether the categories had been determined by old or young people. Yet it’s still possible that young adults are the ones who are consistently wrong.

Why Aging Leads To Greater Vulnerability to Scam Artists

That’s why scammers looking to exploit age-related vulnerability will use fear-based messaging to separate seniors from their savings.  One of the most common tactics is health scammers claim that their product is on a special offer for a limited time only, and this adds pressure to buy.  The messages often talk about coming economic collapse, social security imploding, medicare no longer covering medical costs and the impending loss of your home.  Many urge seniors to “act fast” to support efforts claiming to protect Medicare and Social Security benefits. Seniors who receive volumes of mail that say if you don’t give me $25, $50 or $100, the sky is going to fall down.

The scammers are far more interested in scaring these seniors than they are in providing them with the facts. Their common strategy is to use very open-ended and misleading language. . . . What you end up with is frightened and scared older Americans who are giving away their money to organizations that aren’t going to provide them with important services or information.


One of the more frequently used scams on the elderly involve fake Medicare representatives, wherein scammers pose as Medicare workers in order to get personal information. These impostors may do their operations over the telephone or by setting up fake mobile clinics. There are also those who sell counterfeit prescription drugs over the Internet, and these charlatans promise seniors that they will be able to save more money if they buy their medication online. Another tactic is selling fraudulent anti-aging products, like creams, serums and pills.   The scammers will offer a wide array of over-priced and useless products and treatments that are said to help the elderly gain a more youthful look.

Also, as people age, their ability to make sound financial decisions noticeably deterioriates due to decreased problem-solving, reasoning, and evaluating skills. Scammers know this.  And they know that some of their potential victims live by themselves and are often lonely, which makes them the perfect target for health scams. According to a study, the older population is the most often targeted group for fraud. Experts say that older persons’ loneliness increases their vulnerability to financial and health scams. Moreover, it was found that the elderly tend to be more receptive to telemarketers because they are in greater need of social interactions with the young. Seniors who lack the support of friends and family also tend to rely on retailers and service providers as a source of social support, and this practice increases the risk of being scammed or abused through deceptive marketing practices. This is why it’s crucial for younger members of the family to take steps to reach out to elders who suffer from social isolation and loneliness.

How To Tell If Fear Is Taking Hold

If you suspect that your elderly relative or friend is being scammed, you may want to look out for a few warning signs that they are being preyed upon by shady individuals. One of the most obvious signs is sudden changes to wills or powers of attorney. Another is if they have had sudden large withdrawals of cash or unusual purchases. You should also be on your guard if your elderly loved one claims to have met a new friend on the phone and is quite secretive about their conversations.


Resources To Help Fearful Seniors

The Investor Protection Trust, an organization providing investor education, is providing medical professionals with guidelines on how to spot financial fraud and abuse as part of a program called the Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program. It is also working with the American Bar Association to develop a continuing legal education program on financial fraud and the elderly.   It has created some guidelines for seniors who use the Internet.   They include:

1. Elderly folk instantly believe schemes in which cyber crooks claim to be government officials. They target old age people to steal personal information, usually in the form of emails and calls. Then they make the victim visit a website and furnish critical details like social security numbers, bank info, contact details and such. So, all you old folks out there be very careful while engaging in such activities. If you suspect something fishy, then just abandon that activity and contact the government agency or bank on a direct note. Make sure you are in contact with the right person and disclose your experience on the latest cyber heist. Most banks, financial institutions and government officials have already set up special cells to deal with such cases. Just pass on the info to them and let them know your experience with the fraudster. They will take care of the rest.

2. With changing social dynamics, elderly folk is left with no option than to live alone. And it’s now a fact proven in the survey that people in their 50s cannot resist cyber romance. But sweetheart scams targeting elderly become a menace to deal with the security agencies. These criminals often target victims who are alone and try to exploit them financially. Especially, people who have gone through divorces or spouse death are said to be prime victims of such scams. In such cases, often scammers win the trust of the victim and then persuade them to take the conversation off-line. Remember, this could spell a doom for you in near future. For this reason, most of the legal online dating sites have set up safeguards for their customers- irrespective of their age. They never encourage their customers to share bank details or house addresses on their platform on a public note.

3. Work from home opportunities often lures seniors as it earns them a living and helps pay for their medical expenses. Unfortunately, most of such job offers are now being posted by scammers. In recent times, they are a number of reports where elderly folk paid a huge one-time fee to set up their own online businesses which usually don’t materialize.

4.  Investment newsletters claiming to get you rich quick.   Because many seniors live on fixed incomes, they often want to increase the value of their estate and ensure they have sufficient funds to meet basic needs. Three out of four people over 65 years of age receive at least 25 percent of their income from investments.  In investment scams, offenders persuade the elderly to invest in precious gems, real estate, annuities, or stocks and bonds by promising unrealistically high rates of return. The investments often consist of fake gemstones, uninhabitable property, or shares in a risky or unprofitable company.Securities, such as stocks, mutual funds, and other investments are sometimes higher-yielding—and also higher risk. Unfortunately, that has made many senior citizens vulnerable to con men and fast-talking brokers who are eager to deprive investors of their life savings.   The American Bar Association recommends against investing in high-pressure or inflated investment schemes.

Eventually such scams not only affect their wallets but can also break them emotionally. And if the victim faces criminal charges things just go out control. So, all you seniors beware of such scams and stay cautious.


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