San Francisco Fraud Attorney on Financial Scams Targeting the Elderly and Research Into Aging Brains

As a San Francisco elder abuse attorney, Greg Brod knows that mistreatment of older Americans comes in many forms. In addition to representing victims of physical elder abuse, his team also represents clients in an even-less discussed arena – financial abuse of seniors. Financial fraud against seniors is a growing problem and Attorney Brod is dedicated to helping Northern California victims and their families recover in civil court.

Study Finds Older Brains Less Able to Detect Facial Signs of Trustworthiness
Perpetrators of fraud, not surprisingly, seek out the most vulnerable targets. An interesting study recently revealed one of the factors that may make seniors more likely to fall victim to fraud. As discussed in a U.S. News & World Report article, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles found that older people are less capable of spotting untrustworthy faces. They determined that older adults have lower rates of activity in a portion of the brain called the anterior insula, an area tied to disgust and that helps people identify untrustworthy faces. Shelley Taylor, a researcher and psychology professor, explained this change as a reduced warning signal where the brain fails to send a “Be wary” message like it would in a younger person.
The study involved 119 older adults (between 55 and 84, with an average age of 68) and twenty-four younger people (average age of 23). They found the groups had similar responses to both trustworthy and neutral faces but that, in comparison to the younger group, older participants were more likely to report that untrustworthy faces were approachable and trustworthy. In a second study, the investigators studied brain scans as a group of older adults (55-80 years old, average age of 66) and younger adults (average age of 33) studied facial pictures. In the younger participants, the scans showed anterior insula activation when viewing and rating the faces, especially with portraits of untrustworthy faces. The older individuals, in contrast, showed little activity in that region of the brain. The overall findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on December 3.

What made researchers deem a given face untrustworthy? Professor Taylor said that untrustworthy faces show an insincere smile and that the eye contact is off. In sum, the study showed that there are differences in how the brain responds to such faces with age. Young adults have a strong reaction in the brain allowing them to rate trustworthiness, but the brain’s response is more muted in older individuals.

The Rising Threat of Financial Fraud Targeting Older Adults
U.S. News noted that older people may be targeted in their 70s, the time when they start to take required annual distributions from 401K accounts. One study estimated that people over age 60 lost at least $2.9 billion due to financial exploitation in 2010 alone, a 12% increase from 2008. These crimes range from home-repair scams to complex financial scams. Notably, and in line with the recent study’s findings, older people appear to be especially susceptible to interpersonal solicitations, possibly due to a reduced ability to gauge trustworthiness.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of financial fraud targeting the elderly in Northern California, please contact our team. Attorney Brod is an experienced San Francisco victim’s rights attorney and our legal team is dedicated to helping those harmed by these despicable crimes recover money damages in civil court. Additional information on financial abuse of the elderly is available via the Elder Financial Protection Network, a San Francisco non-profit dedicated to preventing financial abuse of older individuals through public awareness, community outreach, and professional training events.

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