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Middle-aged and Younger people are more likely to fall for Covid-19 scams than seniors

Is it true that older people are more vulnerable to Covid-19 scams than younger people?

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Despite the belief that older people are less knowledgeable about modern technology and 21st-century scams, new research reveals that scam awareness does not differ by age group.

In today’s digitally connected world, there are several opportunities to deceive people into turning over huge sums of money through various misrepresentations. The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic corresponded, predictably, with the start of a new wave of scams.

By October of this year, The US Federal Trade Commission revealed more than 270,000 Covid-19 scam claims, costing victims more than $580 million.

Despite being the target of scammers, older adults are no more likely than younger or middle-aged people to respond to these scams, according to research published in Frontiers in Psychology. Instead, older folks are far more skeptical of the claims made in the scam mails than younger generations.

In this study, the researchers from Cornell University, Scripps College, and Claremont Graduate University in the United States, as well as the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, included 210 participants, including 68 between the ages of 18 and 40, 79 between the ages of 41 and 64, and 63 between the ages of 65 and 84.

Each participant received Covid-19 messages based on real-life hoaxes, such as an email pretending to be from the World Health Organization, a text message informing them that they had been exposed to Covid-19, and a press release saying that a new vaccination could treat the condition in hours. They were also shown a legitimate face mask advertisement.

The so-called ‘bullshit receptivity scale,’ proposed by Gordon Pennycook and other scientists in 2015, is one of the assessment techniques utilized in this study. Participants are asked to score the ‘profoundness’ of statements like “good health imparts reality to subtle creativity”.

Unbeknownst to the respondents, the statements were generated at random, with a correct syntax but no content. Pennycook and David Rand discovered in a later study that individuals who attribute more profundity to such random utterances are also more prone to believe ‘fake news’ is true.

Julia Nolte of Cornell University, the study’s corresponding author, said she and her colleagues discovered that a higher susceptibility to ‘bullshit’ is linked to a greater inclination to respond to Covid-19 offers.

The study’s elder participants, on the other hand, were less inclined to believe that ‘bullshit’ claims were true. This should help older people avoid becoming victims of fraud, as age differences in sensitivity to false assertions have been linked to older people being more suspicious of the stated benefits of Covid-19 frauds.

“There is a common perception that older adults are at higher risk of falling victim to fraud, or are more likely to be targeted directly by scammers,” said Nolte.

“As a result, warnings about Covid-19 scams might be specifically addressed at this demographic. Our study reveals that it is important that these warnings also reach younger and middle-aged adults, as they are more likely to perceive Covid-19 solicitations as beneficial than older adults are.”

She went on to say that prior to Covid-19, studies examining age differences in fraud vulnerability had yielded mixed results. While some studies have revealed that elderly persons are more vulnerable, others have concluded that middle-aged adults are more vulnerable.

“These differences in findings could stem from the various types of scams or frauds used and from the fact that many consumers fail to report incidents of fraud victimization, especially older adults,” Nolte added.

“To illustrate, older adults are less likely to report Covid-19 fraud complaints complaint, but that does not mean that they are less affected by Covid-19 scams than other demographics are. In fact, adults over 80 lose a much higher median amount of money ($1,000) to Covid-19 scams than younger age groups do ($244 – $590).”

In the future, Nolte and her colleagues suggest investigating a larger range of Covid-19 frauds to provide more data to assist combat the problem in the coming years.

“It is possible that some types of Covid-19 [scams] are more likely to trick consumers, or certain consumer demographics, than others. More research is needed to understand what makes specific Covid-19 scams ‘work’ and how we can protect and educate consumers accordingly.”

Source: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.789883

Image Credit: Getty

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