March 1, 2016
Loneliest Seniors Vulnerable to Fraud
“Lost my husband to 9/11 terror attack” – using heartbreaking stories like these, a U.K. scam that became public last month persuaded some lonely older men to turn their money over to widows.
This report is a dramatic illustration of a relationship between loneliness and fraud that has been uncovered in recent research. That study found that people over 50 have been vulnerable to being victimized by fraud in recent years – but the prevalence of fraud was three times higher among people who are extremely depressed or lonely.
The 2013 study in the journal Clinical Gerontologist might be the first to examine financial exploitation from the point of view of psychological vulnerability. It was based on a general survey of older Americans that asks each participant if they’ve “been the victim of financial fraud in the past five years.”
The psychological survey questions pin down whether they suffer from depressive symptoms and whether their social needs are fulfilled. The social needs questions address loneliness and a lack of social affirmation, asking the survey’s respondents whether they “have people to turn to, people to talk to, people to feel close to” and are “part of a group” and “appreciated.”
The study found a link between low scores on answers to these questions and the prevalence of fraud among the broad older population. But the strongest findings were among people with the highest levels of depression and the lowest social needs fulfillment. They were significantly more likely to have been defrauded – 14 percent of them, compared with 4 percent of the overall older population.
The results are a reminder that “psychological vulnerability can affect older adults’ lives in a variety of domains,” the research concluded.