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Crime Science

A Brain-Based Explanation For Why Old People Get Scammed 209

Posted by timothy
from the this-story-won't-fool-my-dad-of-course dept.
sciencehabit writes "Despite long experience with the ways of the world, older people are especially vulnerable to fraud. According to the Federal Trade Commission, up to 80% of scam victims are over 65. One explanation may lie in a brain region that serves as a built-in crook detector. Called the anterior insula, this structure — which fires up in response to the face of an unsavory character — is less active in older people, possibly making them less cagey than younger folks, a new study finds."
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A Brain-Based Explanation For Why Old People Get Scammed

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just sayin'... the guy looks like such a crook; I always wondered how he could get supporters.

  • ...these are the same people who used to see deals on infomercials and think they had to buy it right then and there.
  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @11:01AM (#42179099)

    They're also (as a general populace) more lonely, less educated, more dependent on repairmen to do tasks for them, and more financially well-off than their younger counterparts.

    They're basically the perfect soup for travelers, gypsy trash, and other assorted con-artist-pieces-of-shit to take advantage of. Makes me want to go back to the days when a tall tree and short noose waited for that filth when they got caught. There is very little in this world lower than someone willing to take advantage of the elderly.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's some primo racism in there buddy. Here's a hint: If you replace the word "gypsy" by "jew" or "black" or "muslim" and something would appear racist, then it's racist.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiziganism [wikipedia.org]

      But of course you'll claim you're not a racist, and travelers are really like that, because you know someone who heard something that happened this one time, right?

      • by crazyjj (2598719) *

        Gypsy isn't a race, and con-man sure as hell isn't. But if you want to call me bigoted against people who take advantage of the weak and feeble-minded with scams and cons, then you are certainly correct on that point.

      • by KiloByte (825081)

        Have you heard about a thing called "romanipen"? It's essentially "gadjas are not human, you should never steal from or cheat someone following romanipen but everyone else should be distrusted, and being not humans, crimes against them are not a bad thing".

        Things are so bad that in Slovakia you have 80% unemployment among Romas (ethnicity not romanipen wise) while the general population has 7%. This is way more than could be explained by antiziganism, especially that legally no one can discriminate agains

    • I'm right on the cusp of the baby boomer gen (on the younger side), I'm turning 50 in 4 months, so I'm just entering into this era of my life. I have to say that either I'm not in the norm OR I being an IT professional has helped OR I'm just a jaded old fart because I've certainly grown much more cynical of other people and institutions, not less. Last 419 email I got (its been a while) I fucked with the guy. I understand that old scam still traps a lot of older folk.
      • by gstoddart (321705)

        I'm right on the cusp of the baby boomer gen (on the younger side), I'm turning 50 in 4 months, so I'm just entering into this era of my life. I have to say that either I'm not in the norm OR I being an IT professional has helped OR I'm just a jaded old fart because I've certainly grown much more cynical of other people and institutions, not less.

        I have to wonder (as with all of these things) if it's correlation or causation.

        Do these structures in older people decline ... or are we measuring a generation of

  • oh just that? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by v1 (525388) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @11:02AM (#42179117) Homepage Journal

    All brain functions are in decline throughout most of our lives, I doubt any one specific area has much more of an impact than any other. Judgement, trust, memory, reasoning, caution, etc.

    Up to a certain point, sheer experience helps prevent older folks from being scammed, but somewhere there's going to be a tipping point in most people's cognitive skills in general that make them an easier mark. A headline like "Elderly found to be easier to scam!" just gets "no kidding!" from me.

    I'd also wager the average 85 yr old is easier to coax into a stranger's car than the average 5 yr old.

    I'm sure I'll get a reply from one or two telling me their Aunt Gracie was sharp as a whip till the day she died at 90, and you'll run into that from time to time, but those people are by far the exception to the rule.

    • by vlm (69642)

      All brain functions are in decline throughout most of our lives, I doubt any one specific area has much more of an impact than any other. Judgement, trust, memory, reasoning, caution, etc.

      You have to live for an awful long time to make up for it, or in a very unusual culture, where teens and twenty-somethings are the pinnacle of judgement, caution, and reasoning. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it at the time, but compared to way back then, I've slowly improved to something like wise old Gandalf now.

      I don't think any of that peaks until probably 50s or so. Maybe early 60s. Its an exercisable facility, 40 adult years of watching TV is not going to improve that individual, but on

      • I've successfully developed my brain to the point where I don't trust anyone. :)

        • by gstoddart (321705)

          I've successfully developed my brain to the point where I don't trust anyone. :)

          I don't believe you. ;-)

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @11:02AM (#42179119) Journal

    As we all know, the human cerebral cortex is heavily wrinkled, allowing a very large sheet of neural network to fit inside the skull.

    During the aging process, the wrinkles gradually diffuse through the skull, collecting on the skin surface, and leaving the cerebral cortex much less efficiently packed. This, obviously, is why old people are wrinkly and suffer cognitive decline. What theory could be simpler or more parsimonious?

    • by tool462 (677306)

      Wrinkles, like hair, are a conserved quantity.
      Everybody knows that as you get older, hair travels from the top of your head and starts coming out of your nose and ears.
      In much the same way, wrinkles travel out of your brain and collect on your face and neck. By the time you reach your 80s, your face looks like something out of a movie adaptation of a Stephen King novel, but that brain inside is smooth as a baby's bottom.

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @11:06AM (#42179167) Homepage Journal

    Called the anterior insula, this structure — which fires up in response to the face of an unsavory character

    Just because someone's shady looking, does not mean they're a thief. The inverse holds true as well.

    Truth be told, most-if-not-all of us have been robbed of far more by white guys in suits, rather than black guys in hoodies.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Just because someone's shady looking, does not mean they're a thief. The inverse holds true as well.

      But its still statistically correct enough to be a survival advantage.

      From an evolutionary standpoint, I'm guessing its something like: If as a youth you're sitting around the campfire and the faces are "not-family" either you're lost at the wrong campfire or its wartime or whatever so be worried. As an old dude you're sitting around the campfire and the faces are "not-family" that's because all your ancestors/family are dead and these weirdos are your in-laws, so chill and play nice with them.

      Old people

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Old people having stuff worth stealing is a recent phenomena.

        No, the longer you're here the more time you have to collect stuff.

      • by kencurry (471519)
        This is "insightful" or "funny" - wish I had mod points today.
    • "Signs of untrustworthiness include averted eyes; an insincere smile that doesn't reach the eyes; a smug, smirky mouth; and a backward tilt to the head."

      It's not about some new age, face based phrenology; it's about reading body language and facial expressions. Especially the involuntary micro-expressions that we all make every minute of every day but that are too subtle to be consciously detected by most people. A "smile that doesn't reach the eyes" isn't something you're going to see and say to yourself

      • That's outdated. It's perfectly possible to train smiling with your eyes. That's the whole point of being a sociopath, no connection to any actual emotional state or bond with the other required.

        No, what this describes is the average (if not cocky) amateur doing something fishy, it's how you catch a dumb person in an unprepared lie. But that's about it.

    • by sl4shd0rk (755837)

      Just because someone's shady looking, does not mean they're a thief.

      Enough about McAfee already.

    • by 1s44c (552956)

      Truth be told, most-if-not-all of us have been robbed of far more by white guys in suits, rather than black guys in hoodies.

      As in several orders of magnitude more. A mugger might want my pocket change once but the government takes a third of my income before I even see it, then comes back to demand extra fees on everything I buy.

      • by timeOday (582209)
        And you get nothing in return! Poor baby.

        I was watching The Queen of Versailles the other night (a pretty amazing documentary) and in one scene the tycoon is bragging on the phone that he defaulted on a $9M loan, then secretly sent a third party to the bank to buy back the assets on auction for $3M. Just like that, he stole $6M with a few phone calls, probably completely legally. More welfare than a dozen inner-city welfare moms could get in a lifetime. No retribution, even after everybody knows. The

        • by 1s44c (552956)

          And you get nothing in return! Poor baby.

          Did I say that?

          I get plenty in return much of it worth paying for. However the government is paying people who choose not to work, overpaying its own under performing staff, and underpaying the hard workers I really do respect.

          And don't try and tell me that voting changes anything because you can't vote out the civil service.

    • Just because someone's shady looking, does not mean they're a thief.....
      Truth be told, most-if-not-all of us have been robbed of far more by white guys in suits....

      Yes, white guys in suits look like crooks. But why are you contradicting your own statements?!

    • Actually, I'd even say the average crook is going to be look slicker and come across warmer than the average person. Kinda like I'd expect a professional boxer to have a stronger biceps than average.

      • Actually, I'd even say the average crook is going to be look slicker and come across warmer than the average person. Kinda like I'd expect a professional boxer to have a stronger biceps than average.

        Agreed, but what person do you see others shy away from on the street more readily - a guy in a nice suit, or that shaggy dude wearing 6 coats and mean-mugging everyone?

        • Sure, people tend to be noobs that way. I actually think assuming bad character when dealing with dirty and/or poor people is projection to no little degree: if someone is starving through no fault of their own, and I'm well fed through no merit of my own, I better make up a story real quick in which I'm not the asshole; the rest follows from there. Just like we love to believe that we're somehow a winner when being taken advantage of by someone with a big bullshit smile. That can also go the other way, too

    • by dywolf (2673597)

      being PC is ruining peoples' comprehension of simple things.

      "shady looking" is less about physical looks and more about behaviour and mannerisms (failure to maintain eye contact, inability to keep still, hem/haws before answering a straight question, etc.), though being unkempt or bleary eyed are also indicators of someone "not at their best".

  • This might also explain why so many of them watch Fox News and buy stupid things on TV. In fact, the association between right wing causes and commercial scams is well known [thebaffler.com].

  • Without picking on any network in particular, according to Nielson one network has an average viewer age over 65. Surprisingly, the competing networks are not wildly younger wrt age demos.

    Not the source but a nice overview of the demographics:
    http://www.quora.com/Fox-News-cable-news-network/What-are-the-demographics-of-Fox-News-viewers [quora.com]

    Could certainly be considered trollish, I know. But it's an interesting hypothesis nonetheless.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      No need to ask Nielson, I caught a few minutes of that network waiting for a doctor, all commercials were for gold, seniors insurance, medicines and mobility scooters.

  • by Rob the Bold (788862) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @11:15AM (#42179301)
    If they think the elderly are easy, they haven't met doctors, newly successful pro athletes and salesmen of all kinds.
    • by Magnus Pym (237274) on Tuesday December 04, 2012 @01:53PM (#42181393)

      You are absolutely right. Old people are in general desperately lonely, and they often suppress `warning messages' for the company when being conned by a smart personable young person (or a cheerful voice at the end of the phone line).

      The problem is really social isolation.

      The father of one of my closest friends (in his 80s) was conned into investing close to $250,000.00 into a real estate venture in Latin America. He is not someone who comes across as a doddering old man. He is still alert, reasonably physically fit (for his age) and shows no signs of dementia. He had a successful career in business and survived all the vicious corporate politics of the huge corporation that he worked for, and retired with a healthy retirement account.

      But pretty much everyone he knows is either dead or lives too far away for regular contact. His children live across the country and his spouse is no more. He has almost no living friends. Pretty much everyone whom he knew before he was 30 have passed on. The elderly do not make new friends very easily with their own age group. He goes for weeks without talking to a single soul (think of the guy from the movie `Up', that scenario is quite accurate). He is isolated, lonely, disenfranchised and desperate to feel relevant to society.

      He was ripe for the picking by the smart young woman who knocked on his door in a business suit, heels and with a briefcase full of glossy brochures.

  • I've found in my life that kids 15 and under fall for scams much more often than senior citizens. Think 'fad' if you don't agree. Fad is after all, just a slow scam. Got any beany babies?
    • by kryliss (72493)

      Beany Babies? Oh yes, those little stuffed animals that some adults were spending upwards of thousands of dollars on to get a "rare" Beany Baby... These days I can't go to a garage sale where some sucker.... I mean individual isn't trying to pawn them off as if they were actually worth more than 99 cents a piece.

  • I wonder if this is correlated or even causality related to older people having a much-reduced circle of close friends?

  • TFA says that 80% of victims of scam artists are elderly.

    Depending on what counts as a "scam"–some people think the lottery is a big one–there are way too many other reasons beyond something wrong with their brains to make this explanation complete or even useful.

    For example, a much better and simpler explanation is that the older you are the more likely you are to be socially isolated. Socially isolated people are easier prey for scammers.

    In fact, the results reported in TFA more usef

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