Folks over age 65 make up only an eighth of the U.S. population but as many as a third of all scam victims. There are three common explanations for this disproportionate vulnerability: memory loss, loneliness and a supposedly more trusting nature.
So what explains all those older folks who don't fit these descriptions but still get scammed?
Research suggests answers that go beyond the three main explanations: The natural aging process can cause subtle shifts in mind and mind-set that open the way for scammers in unexpected ways.
Starting in our 30s, our brains begin to shrink, says Virginia Templeton, director of MemoryCare, an Asheville, N.C., facility that treats people with memory disorders. With normal aging, the pace of processing information slows, becoming more noticeable in our 60s. "In people with early memory loss, even before it's clear that there may be a problem, judgment, reasoning ability and decision-making skills may change," she says. "And in many scams — telemarketing, fake lotteries — you have to 'act now!' "
These demands for speed, of course, are there for a reason. "Unless you're patient enough to give yourself more time to process everything, you can be more vulnerable," says Templeton.