Media Releases

Older Victims of Fraud Have Poorer Cognitive Skills and are Less Conscientious, Honest

April 17, 2017

Toron­to, ON – When com­par­ing vic­tims of fraud to those who had nev­er been vic­tim­ized, lead authors Dr. Kang Lee and doc­tor­al researcher Rebec­ca Judges at the Ontario Insti­tute for Stud­ies in Edu­ca­tion (OISE) at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to, along with researchers at Ryer­son Uni­ver­si­ty, found that old­er vic­tims have poor­er cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties in every­day activ­i­ties and are less con­sci­en­tious and less hon­est than non-vic­tims of the same age group.

Results of the study, ‘The Role of Cog­ni­tion, Per­son­al­i­ty, and Trust in Fraud Vic­tim­iza­tion in Old­er Adults’, recent­ly pub­lished in the jour­nal, Fron­tiers in Psy­chol­o­gy, revealed that cog­ni­tive dif­fer­ences were the most impor­tant dif­fer­en­tia­tor between vic­tims and non-vic­tims. Demo­graph­ics such as gen­der, income, edu­ca­tion and inter­per­son­al trust did not prove to be fac­tors.

Read the full sto­ry:

Dis­pels com­mon belief

“The results of this study were very sur­pris­ing – they dis­pel a com­mon belief about why some old­er peo­ple fall vic­tim to fraud,” said Dr. Lee, pro­fes­sor at OISE’s Jack­man Insti­tute of Child Study and Tier 1 Cana­da Research Chair.

“Peo­ple often think things like lone­li­ness or trust­ing behav­iours are the cul­prit,” said Judges. “But this study shows that cog­ni­tive fac­tors – not social fac­tors – are the biggest dif­fer­ence between old­er adult vic­tims and non-vic­tims.”

This pat­tern, she said, was found in study par­tic­i­pants in Ontario aged 60 and old­er who had not been diag­nosed with a cog­ni­tive impair­ment. They each lived inde­pen­dent­ly in their com­mu­ni­ties.

Researchers explained that cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties are the skills required to think, learn and rea­son. These skills can include being able to per­form sim­ple cal­cu­la­tions in one’s head, fol­low a con­ver­sa­tion from start to fin­ish, and remem­ber events that took place over the past month.

“The same abil­i­ties that enable some­one to do these tasks well may also be impor­tant for iden­ti­fy­ing and avoid­ing scams,” Dr. Lee explained.

Sup­port need­ed to pre­vent decline of cog­ni­tive skills

“The results can play an impor­tant role in the pre­ven­tion of fraud vic­tim­iza­tion in old­er peo­ple,” said Ryer­son University’s Dr. Lix­ia Yang, who col­lab­o­rat­ed on the study along with PhD stu­dent Sara Gal­lant.

Judges agrees.

“For exam­ple, iden­ti­fy­ing the most impor­tant skills need­ed in finan­cial deci­sion-mak­ing and then work­ing to pre­vent cog­ni­tive decline in those key areas could make an impact,” she said, also sug­gest­ing addi­tion­al sup­port be pro­vid­ed to those expe­ri­enc­ing cog­ni­tive decline.

Adults 60–69 most vic­tim­ized in mass-mar­ket­ing scams

The study asked par­tic­i­pants about 15 com­mon types of con­sumer fraud and mass mar­ket­ing fraud includ­ing weight loss scams, advance free loans, lot­tery fraud, and emer­gency (or grand­par­ent) scams. Despite efforts to pre­vent fraud vic­tim­iza­tion, peo­ple in West­ern nations are col­lec­tive­ly los­ing bil­lions of dol­lars accord­ing to con­sumer groups like the U.S. Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion, Cana­di­an Anti-Fraud Cen­tre, and oth­ers.

In 2014, Cana­di­ans lost a report­ed $74 mil­lion to mass-mar­ket­ing scams alone, and 60–69 year olds were the most fre­quent­ly tar­get­ed group, accord­ing to the Cana­di­an Anti-Fraud Cen­tre. In the same year, Amer­i­cans lost $1.7 bil­lion to var­i­ous scams, accord­ing to the Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion, while the Aus­tralian Com­pe­ti­tion and Con­sumer Com­mis­sion report­ed loss­es of $82 mil­lion due to fraud.



Rebec­ca Judges (co-author of study and pri­ma­ry media con­tact)
PhD stu­dent, OISE at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Phone: 416–934-4503

Dr. Kang Lee (co-author of study)
Pro­fes­sor, Dr. Eric Jack­man Insti­tute for Child Study, OISE at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to

Lind­sey Craig
Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and Media Rela­tions Coor­di­na­tor, OISE at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Phone: 416–978-1127

Lau­ren Clegg
Pub­lic Affairs, Ryer­son Uni­ver­si­ty
Phone: 416–979-5000 x 7161