“Could brain changes may make older people more prone to scams?”
“The findings appear to agree with what experts on scams and the elderly have long noticed," says Doug Shadel, Washington state director for AARP, a national grassroots organization that represents older Americans.
Shadel says that scam artists have admitted in interviews that their main ploy is to get their intended victim “under the ether,” or in a heightened emotional state that puts them off kilter.
“They’re by-passing that same part of the brain — the frontal cortex, the part that makes you doubt things — and bringing you to the present moment where you’re going to make a rash decision,” said Shadel. “It’s something that we in the practitioner world have suspected for years. But getting concrete science behind it is really important,” added Shadel, who is also a former fraud investigator.
In fact, the findings may help older people avoid such scams. Shelley Taylor conducted the UCLA study assessing older individuals' tendency to miss common cues to suggest whether or not a person is trustworthy
. Taylor’s own father was the retired school counselor who got scammed by the two young men, who were homeless and missing teeth. “He thought they were nice young men and he was making loans,” Taylor said. And Taylor’s aunt was the victim of telephone marketers who convinced her to purchase fake gems.
Given older people’s weakness when it comes to judging whether a person is trustworthy, Taylor advises to reduce the temptation.
“You want to get people to shut it off before they ever have the conversation: to hang up without talking, to throw the mail solicitation away, to not go to the free lunch seminar,” she said.
AARP recommends that people never decide to buy something while listening to a sales pitch or reading a mail solicitation.
“Always give yourself at least 24 hours so that you have time to engage your rational mind,” Shadel suggests.
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The key question to this dilemma is: What will you use to help you make an informed decision over that 24 hour period?
As with many sales techniques and attempts, sales approaches often rely on emotions and various degrees of pressure, often neglecting the fundamental requirements of due diligence and suitability.
Point is, when your intuitive facilities begin to wane, you may well need to rely more on an objective model of decision making. This is my recommendation to seniors, a simple framework that has four progressive steps:
- Step 1: Discovery and identification of the problem
- Step 2: Your commitment and their commitment
- Step 3: The best solution for the identified problem
- Step 4: The actions needed to complete the decision
Simple, objective, tangible, repeatable, demonstrative and understandable. This framework applies to little or big decisions.
To summarize, if for any reason your emotional and intuitive instincts are not as sharp or reliable as before, please consider a model (as above). If not this one, there will be many others from a Web search. Going forward, there is really no substitute for objectivity. As always, you decide.