Are older people more likely to fall for COVID scams?

Contrary to the common perception that older adults are particularly vulnerable to scams and scammers, when it comes to those of the COVID variety the reverse is actually true.

Research has found that while older adults are more often the target of these scams, they are less likely to fall them than middle-aged and younger people.

The study found that older people were significantly more wary of the claims in COVID scam messages than younger generations.

Read: Government warning to beware of online cyber grinches

The study involved 210 participants, of which 68 were between the ages of 18 and 40, 79 aged between 41 and 64, and 63 aged between 65 and 84.

Each participant was presented with COVID-19 messages based on real-life scams including an email claiming to be from the World Health Organization, a text message warning that they’d been exposed to COVID-19, and an announcement claiming that a new vaccine could cure the disease in hours. They were also presented with a legitimate face mask ad.

One of the measurement tools used in this study is the so-called ‘bullshit receptivity scale’. It asks participants to rate the ‘profoundness’ of impressive-sounding statements such as ‘good health imparts reality to subtle creativity’.

Read: Federal government announces changes to combat scam texts

Researchers have found that people who ascribe more profoundness to random statements that are meaningless are also more likely to perceive ‘fake news’ as accurate.

In this latest study, study co-author Julia Nolte of Cornell University said she and her team found that a higher receptivity to ‘bullshit’ is associated with a greater willingness to respond to COVID-19 solicitations.

Yet the study’s older participants were less likely to perceive ‘bullshit’ statements as valid. This might prevent older adults from becoming fraud victims, as age differences in susceptibility to bogus statements were associated with older adults being more wary of the alleged benefits of COVID-19 scams.

Read: Why Aussies fall for scams so easily

“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,” Ms Nolte said.

“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.”

Prior to COVID-19, she added, research into age differences in susceptibility to fraud was already yielding mixed findings.

Whereas some studies found that older adults were more likely to be victimised, other studies reported heightened vulnerability in middle-aged adults.

“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 victimisation, especially older adults,” Ms Nolte said.

“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.”

Do you feel people of your generation have better ‘bullshit’ detectors than younger generations? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Ben

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