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Loneliness makes older adults more vulnerable to financial scammers

When you actually think about it, this headline makes a lot of sense. Loneliness exposes people to a diverse range of significant risks to mental and physical well-being. However, it is a sad reflection on our society when for some people, the main form of social contact comes from communication with commercial organisations or scammers.

Each year, people in New Zealand lose in excess of $14 million due to scams. While NetSafe did not record details of the callers, apart from gender, international research indicates that people over the age of 50 were more vulnerable to scammers.

Financial scammers are skilled at using marketing techniques to establish rapport and familiarity with victims. The language they use is persuasive and personal, deliberately designed to appeal to the human need for social contact. Scammers who maintain a high level of contact with their victims can build up strong relationships with their victims which then results in some people valuing this relationship more than the potential financial cost of the scam.

Loneliness also means that people may have fewer opportunities to meet with others to discuss finances or scams than those who are connected socially; and are therefore unable to check with a trusted contact whether an offer, or relationship, is genuine.

Once scammed, the loneliness of some scam victims can be intensified by feelings of shame and embarrassment. It doesn’t help that more often than not people who become victims of scams are described as being “stupid”, “gullible” or “greedy”. This further impacts the victims likely hood of speaking out, which may be part of the reason why scamming is an under-reported crime.

Tackling loneliness

Getting involved in community activities is the easiest way to feel less lonely, but this is sometimes harder said than done. Social media may provide a place where people can ‘dip their toes in’ and connect with other people with similar interests online. Many people find this is easier than going completely out of their comfort zone and meeting new people face to face. It is also easy to connect with family members or old friends who do not live close to you via social media which can strengthen those ties. Social media of course is not 100% free of scammers, however it can be a good starting point for those who do not know where to start – just remember to keep your personal details, such as banking and credit card details, to yourself.

If you think social media might work for you or someone you know and want to learn how to use it contact your local SeniorNet.

Signing yourself up to learn something new (e.g. a craft, language or skill) is a good way to meet new people. Heading down to your local library is also a good starting point. If getting out and about is tricky there are lots of organisations that offer visiting services, where voluenteers “pop in” and check up on people. Contact your local Age Concern or Seniorline (0800 725 463) for options in your area. Also, head to Eldernet to see local community groups in your area, or request one of our ‘Where from Here’ handbooks which has some great information regarding this topic.

Empowering people to safeguard themselves against scams through increased awareness is equally important. If you think you are getting scammed, head to the Department of Internal Affairs website to see the latest reported scams. NetSafe and your local Age Concern are also good places to go if you think you have been scammed. They will provide useful and nonjudgmental support.

Check in on your older neighbours and members of your community once in a while just to see how they are (it reassures them that you know that they are there). Invite them out for a hot drink, to watch the kids play sport, the library or just anywhere that allows social interaction on more than one level. Alternatively you could ask them to do a favour for you. Whatever you do; make it as easy and natural as possible. Loneliness is sometimes hard to spot but it is an important issue to combat. As we can see above, loneliness is not only detrimental to their health and well-being, but also the well-being of the economy.

About Eve Williams

Eve Williams is the Content Developer and Social Media Administration for Eldernet. She is currently studying towards her Masters at the University of Canterbury. She has a passion for learning new things.