Perceiving when you are being scammed – older versus young

Elderly people are often targeted for scams because of their disposable funds and their percieved gullibility. Are they more gullible? Why?

Older people are more susceptible to swindlers

Stories of kindly grandmothers giving all their money away to nefarious confidence tricksters are unfortunately all too common. Now, researchers have suggested one reason why older people often seem to fall victim to financial fraud – our ability to judge the trustworthiness of people’s faces diminishes with age, finds a US study.

Shelley Taylor, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and her colleagues examined how people in two age groups perceived photos of faces that had been pre-rated for trustworthiness and approachability. The faces conveyed known cues of trustworthiness, such as a direct gaze and a sincere smile which turns fully upwards towards the eyes.

The results are published [Dec 3] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The older adults rated ‘untrustworthy’ faces as significantly more trustworthy and approachable than did the younger adults. “They missed facial cues that are pretty easily distinguished,” says Taylor. While the the younger adults showed a strong response in the brain region that informs decision-making, the older adults had reduced activity there. It’s not clear if they were not recognizing the signals or if that is a part of the brain whose activity diminishes with age. The researcher suggests that the best remedy to protect people from falling for scams is to limit access to scammers. For example, DON’T talk to these people over the phone. Reject all unsolicited calls. Safe advice for everyone!

  3 comments for “Perceiving when you are being scammed – older versus young

  1. December 4, 2012 at 1:11 PM

    I have always wondered about this: why ARE older people so much more prone to gullibility and credulity? I would think that after a lifetime of experiences interacting with other humans that they would be more likely than a younger person to be skeptical and cynical, yet the opposite seems to be true. It is mostly the older people in my life who are more likely to believe in urban legends, alternative medicine scams, memes, advertising pitches, the “if it’s on TV/the internet it must be true” fallacies, etc.. Why is that?

    I guess now science is providing some answers, like in this article which you guys posted about a few months ago:

    I hope that by the time I reach my parents’ age that a lifetime of hyper-skeptical habits and behaviors will help to protect me. I’d hate to be the charlatan who tries to make a mark out of James Randi!

  2. oldebabe
    December 4, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    Dunno. Who were the `elderly’ and `older’ people examined? While I’ve become more tolerant of the `foibles’ of close people in my life, I’ve become more and more skeptical of others as I’ve aged, and more prone to question, and seek and expect evidence of any claims made (and there are lots of them, as you all know).

    IMO, not all doubtful stuff is face-to-face, and in my experience not all elderly/old persons are patsies – some are just not very discriminating of scams to begin with for one reason or another, lack of education, critical thinking, etc.. The onset of dementia or physical disability are potential factors, and if the person has no close people and/or can’t escape the ongoing degeneration, what is to be done then? rhetorical question of course.

    To juxtapose youth and age in how they evaluate the faces of scammers, however, seems a pointless exercise. Old lady talking, here.

  3. Mike Rose
    December 4, 2012 at 3:50 PM

    This post seems to imply that scammers can be recognized by their looks. Idoubtit.

Comments are closed.