Not too far from our Bottom Line offices, a woman in her late 70s walked into a local bank branch. She asked the teller to wire $30,000 to her grandson who she said had been in a car accident while vacationing in Mexico.

Fortunately for the woman, the teller immediately recognized that she was a victim of the “grandchild scam” and suggested she call her grandson right there on the spot.

Smart move! The grandson answered and said he had been in school all day, far from Mexico.

It’s easy to read the story and assume that the woman had some form of dementia and was being played. But surprising new science shows just the opposite. Many older adults who are duped out of their savings are every bit as capable of paying attention and evaluating information as other adults their age.

However, there is one brain function that appears to differ in those who fall victim—the ability to distinguish social cues that would help them realize that they’re being scammed. This function can deteriorate with age and make older adults who are otherwise intelligent and alert far more susceptible to financial abuse, especially from family members. It’s almost impossible to spot the problem (even in yourself!), and you can read all about it here.

Swindlers are especially active right now, during tax season, with deceptions like the particularly devious “you can’t keep the tax refund” hoax. With an aging population and a growing number of ways for scam artists to reach older adults by phone and online, it’s important to always be on the alert not just for yourself but for friends and loved ones.

Related Articles