As we age, the part of our brain that makes us skeptical can deteriorate. But it’s normal, not a disease. Here’s how to help the seniors in your family protect themselves from a fraud, con or scam artist.
Study finds that the ability to doubt is located in the brain’s prefrontal cortex
A study lead by scientists Erik Asp and Kenneth Manzel of the University of Iowa’s Department of Neurology has provided the first direct evidence that patients with dysfunction of the ventro-medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) are more willing than others to believe what they’re told. They suffer a “doubt deficit.” They can lose their ability to recognize a fraud, con or scam.
It’s natural to see vmPFC deterioration as we age
In some older adults the structural integrity of the prefrontal cortex diminishes more than other regions of the brain. This is natural, not a disease. Stroke also can impair the vmPFC.
Intelligence plays no role
The study may explain why it’s easy to pull off a fraud, con or scam even with highly intelligent people. Many people have no idea that they have a deteriorating prefrontal cortex. Those who suffer from this deterioration, about to be swindled, often strongly reject warnings from family and friends. What’s more, the study says, “VmPFC patients are notorious for their poor decision making in financial and social situations. They often claim that an inappropriate decision ‘feels right’.”
Awareness is the first step
Seniors with this “doubt deficit” can trust too readily. They can be authoritarian and rigidly obstinate that their decision is right. It is important that seniors are aware of such criminal activities as a fraud, con or scam beforehand and know how to head them off.
Protection tips for seniors and caregivers
Note: You should be sure the senior you’re concerned about is competent.
A deteriorating vmPFC is not dementia – a deteriorating vmPFC leaves other mental faculties intact. (If the senior is suffering from dementia, only direct intervention by a competent adult is likely to help.)
Never pay in full before complete delivery of a product or service.
Nobody should ever pay for anything in full before it is delivered. If necessary, pay the smallest deposit possible until the seller delivers the goods or fulfills the service. The Toronto Star recently reported that a man named Eric swindled a 71-year-old North York senior out of $330 for snow removal. She paid for the service up front and when it did snow, Eric never showed up. He did leave behind a business card in exchange for the $330, but the number on Eric’s business card was not in service.
Record driver’s license information.
One way to discourage this kind of fraud, con or scam: Ask the seller at your door to provide identification in the form of his or her driver’s license (with photo on it) so you can record their name and address before you hand over any money or sign anything. It’s easy to print meaningless business cards and letterheads. But it’s not so easy to counterfeit a driver’s license.
Call the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre if you have a concern – before you sign for anything.
Call toll free: 1-888-495-8501.Encourage the senior in your life to call the number anytime anyone offers them a “special” deal on anything – from water tank replacement to snow shoveling.
Get the Toronto Police handbook Frauds and Scams against Seniors
It contains tips on how to recognize many kinds of fraud and what to do about each of them. It also covers Powers of Attorney and Wills. These are important to learn about. A senior’s own family members commit over 90% of all elder abuse – and a good chunk of that is financial abuse.
Visit the excellent Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre website and learn about its SeniorBusters Program
The Centre is a Canadian government volunteer organization. Since 1997, its SeniorBusters Program has helped the CAFC in its attempt to reduce the level of mass marketing fraud, con and scam and identity theft among seniors.
We now understand that many otherwise smart, sharp and cautious seniors can become totally vulnerable to a financial con artist. Seniors with deterioration of the ventro-medial prefrontal cortex trust and don’t doubt. With this knowledge, and the advice above, you can help avoid a con, fraud or scam from happening in the first place.
If you want to report a fraud or if you need more information, contact The Canadian Anti- Fraud Centre:
Toll Free: 1-888-495-8501
Overseas and local: 1-705-495-8501
Toll Free Fax: 1-888-654-9426