Psychologically Vulnerable Seniors More Vulnerable to Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation of the elderly is on the rise according to the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, and the numbers are expected to continue to grow as Baby Boomers age. This exploitation, which includes telemarketing scams, fake home repairs, fake check scams, identity theft and more, costs approximately $3 billion each year.

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Researchers at Wayne State University, in collaboration with Illinois Institute of Technology, recently published a study advising clinical gerontologists in the field to be aware that psychologically vulnerable older adults could be more likely victims of financial exploitation.

The study, ‰ÛÏIs Psychological Vulnerability Related to the Experience of Fraud in Older Adults?‰Û published in the recent issue of Clinical Gerontologist, is the first study to include prospective predictors of reported financial fraud victimization of older adults, and is the first to review financial exploitation of any kind with the same population from a psychological-vulnerability perspective.

‰ÛÏSaid Peter Lichtenberg, Ph.D., director of WSU‰Ûªs Institute of Gerontology and lead author of the paper – ‰ÛÏThose in the clinical study showed characteristics of extreme depression symptoms and perceived low social-status fulfillment, thus showing they were more vulnerable to the experience of theft of scams. ‰ÛÏ

The study included 4,440 participants. Those participants that were the most psychologically vulnerable with the highest levels of depression and lowest levels of social-needs fulfillment, experienced higher levels of fraud compared to those that were not vulnerable psychologically.

‰ÛÏOne of the most significant findings of our study was with the most psychologically vulnerable population,‰Û said Lichtenberg. ‰ÛÏThe combination of high depression and low social-status fulfillment was associated with a 226 percent increase in fraud prevalence in this population. This supports our theory that depressive symptoms and lack of social-needs fulfillment have an effect on fraud prediction, and serves as a reminder to clinical gerontologists how psychological vulnerability can affect older adults‰Ûª lives in a variety of ways.

The research team recommends that this population be assessed for the potential of financial exploitation, and this assessment should be a regular part of clinicians‰Ûª toolkits when working with highly vulnerable individuals.

The implications for caregivers are clear. How is your loved one’s state of mind? Could they be exploited? What steps will you take to make sure they are not?