Is Psychological Vulnerability Related to the Experience of Fraud in Older Adults?

Authors: Peter Lichtenberg 1, Laurie Stickney2, & Daniel Paulson1

1 Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan

2 Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Illinois

Publication: Clinical Gerontologist

Year: 2013

Focus Area: Victim profiling, Emotion, Aging, Fraud Surveys

Relevance: Identifying the populations who are most vulnerable to fraud victimization can help direct prevention efforts.

Summary: Using longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), Lichtenberg et al. studied the prevalence and determinants of fraud victimization in a nationally representative sample of the 50+ population. The authors report that this is the first population-based study to gather prospective data to predict financial exploitation.

Key findings include:

  • The prevalence of fraud (theft and scams) across the previous 5 years was 4.5% of the sample.
  • Fraud was significantly more common among respondents who were younger, had more education, reported more depressive symptoms, had less financial satisfaction, and reported less fulfillment of social needs regarding status.
  • The strongest finding was that fraud prevalence in those with both the highest depression and the lowest social needs fulfillment was 3X higher than the rest of the sample.

Author Abstract: Financial exploitation, and particularly thefts and scams, are increasing at an alarming rate. In this study we (a) determined the national prevalence of older adults who report having been victims of fraud, (b) created a population-based model for the prediction of fraud, and (c) examined how fraud is experienced by the most psychologically vulnerable older adults. The older adults studied were 4,400 participants in a Health and Retirement Study substudy, the 2008 Leave Behind Questionnaire. The prevalence of fraud across the previous 5 years was 4.5%. Among measures collected in 2002, age, education, and depression were significant predictors of fraud. Financial satisfaction and social-needs fulfillment were measured in 2008 and were significantly related to fraud above and beyond the 2002 predictors. Using depression and social-needs fulfillment to determine the most psychologically vulnerable older adults, we found that fraud prevalence was three times higher (14%) among those with the highest depression and the lowest social-needs fulfillment than among the rest of the sample (4.1%; χ2 = 20.49; p < .001). Clinical gerontologists and other professionals in the field need to be aware of their psychologically vulnerable clients’ heightened exposure to financial fraud.

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