Why older people are prone to financial scams

University of Florida study says older people lose out because they are more reluctant to concede first impressions might be mistaken

Older people rely too heavily on their first impressions when it comes to assessing whether someone is trustworthy – a mistake that makes them vulnerable to financial scams, a university study has found.

The University of Florida experiment asked participants to take part in a gambling game.

In the game, people picked cards offering points that translate to money. The catch: rigged decks. Some promised big wins but delivered crushing losses, while others offered smaller, safer gains. Each deck was paired with pictures of faces that appeared trustworthy or untrustworthy.

Initially, younger and older participants picked cards with trustworthy faces. Youngsters caught on quickly when “trustworthy” cards burned them, switching decks to stanch the bleeding. In contrast, older people held on to their first impressions and took much longer to adapt, even as the losses mounted up.

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Seniors are often targeted by scammers and fraudsters, usually by people they know and trust, including family. The moral: don’t wed yourself to first impressions – otherwise, say the authors, you’re at risk from the “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

Proinsias O'Mahony

Proinsias O'Mahony

Proinsias O’Mahony, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes the weekly Stocktake column