Financial Scams, Elders, and the Internet

Research

Close up of elder man's hands typing on a laptop

Since its creation, the internet has been a breeding ground for new forms of financial scams This is an increasing concern as more elder adults, vulnerable to this type of crime, enter the web.

Recently, researchers have begun to examine the public health ramifications of internet scams. Laura Mosqueda and Seyed Parham Khalili’s research underscores how internet financial exploitation specifically targets isolated individuals; being cheated worsens their vulnerability and often leads to increased isolation. Mosequeda and Khalili found that given the cryptic nature of these crimes, it’s difficult to figure out exactly how common they are. Often, victims are embarrassed and upset, making them less likely to report the incident. The researchers point out that financial scams can be disastrous as elders lose more than they can afford.

Individuals who have fallen prey to internet scams face the mental health consequences of financial losses. Scott Montheith and his team discovered these effects were exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the aftermath of online scams, victims report feelings of guilt, humiliation, stress, anxiety, and anger, highlighting the complex emotional toll of financial deception in the digital age.

Many states have insufficient legal frameworks to deal with online financial scams.

 

During the pandemic, as people were instructed to isolate at home, many seniors, previously not accustomed to using the internet, turned to it for entertainment. Tianyi Zhang and colleagues examined the correlation between the rising internet usage among elderly individuals and the prevalence of financial exploitation within this demographic. In 2020, financial losses for individuals who fell victim to financial exploitation amounted to $600 million, with most victims being older adults. The researchers advocate for a collaborative effort involving mental health professionals, researchers, policymakers, and legal experts to lessen the risk for older internet users. Zhang and colleagues suggest improving assessment tools for internet fraud risk and keeping professionals who work with older adults aware of these scams so they can notify their clients.

There is little legal protection for those who fall victim. Many states have insufficient legal frameworks to deal with online financial scams. The lack of clear definitions of these crimes and robust mechanisms to prosecute offenders contributes to the pervasiveness. Adult protective services in many states are outdated and fail to address the sophistication and changing forms of today’s online financial swindles.

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