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

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 a victim 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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