Failing Health Leaves Older Americans Vulnerable to Scams, Poll Finds

FRIDAY, Nov. 17, 2023 (Healthday News) -- Scams are nothing new and older folks are known to be vulnerable to them, but a new poll adds another sad fact to the familiar story.

Among people aged 50 to 80, those who reported being in fair or poor physical or mental health, those with disabilities and those who rated their memory as fair or poor were more likely than their healthier peers to say they’d been the victim of fraud.

The study "adds important new data to ongoing efforts to reduce the devastating toll of scams on older adults’ finances and well-being,” poll director Dr. Jeffrey Kullgren said in a news release. “We also found that no matter what their health status, older adults feel strongly that government and businesses should do more to educate and protect against scams.”

Overall, three of every four older adults said they have experienced a fraud attempt by phone, text, email, mail or online in the past two years, while 39% said they’ve been victims of at least one scam.

But the poll uncovered an especially strong link between poor health and their vulnerability to scams – both being able to spot one and becoming the victim of one.

Even if they’d hadn't been scammed, older adults with health issues were more likely to lack confidence in their ability to spot one.

The results, from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging, also suggest vulnerability among older adults who live alone or have lower incomes.

When the poll team looked at 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 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 with 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.

Even when they hadn't fallen prey to a scam, more than half (57%) of older adults overall expressed uncertainty about their ability to see a scam coming.

Again, health status mattered, with more than 65% of those in fair or poor physical or mental health, or with fair or poor memory, reporting this uncertainty, compared with about 55% of those in better health or with better self-rated memory. Gender mattered, too: 63% of women said they’re somewhat, not very confident or not at all confident they can spot a scam, compared with 49% of men.

The poll, which was published Nov. 14, was conducted online and via phone in July and August 2023 among 2,657 adults aged 50 to 80.

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.

Eighty-three percent of older adults 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. At the same time, 97% of older adults agreed policymakers need to do more to protect people from scams, while 96% agreed that companies should do more.

“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.”

More information

AARP offers information and support for fraud victims through its Fraud Watch Network program.

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