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[SHATTER STEREOTYPES] Older adults no more likely to fall for COVID scams

Despite a prevailing mentality that older people are more vulnerable to scams, a recent study suggests that cautiousness concerning scams does not vary between age groups.

The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic coincided with the start of a new wave of scams. By October 2021, the US Federal Trade Commission reported more than 270,000 COVID-19 fraud cases that cost victims more than $580m.

But older people are not more likely than younger or middle-aged people to fall for these hoaxes, researchers say. Instead, older people are significantly more wary of the claims scam messages are making than younger generations.

The study involved 210 participants, of which 68 were between ages 18-40; 79, between 41-64; and 63, 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’ve 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 the study is the so-called "bullshit receptivity scale," put forward by scientists in 2015. It asks participants to rate the "profoundness" of impressive-sounding statements such as "good health imparts reality to subtle creativity."

Unbeknownst to the participants, the statements were randomly created to have an intact syntax, but be meaningless in content. In a later study, scientists found that people who ascribed more profoundness to such random statements were also more likely to perceive fake news as accurate.

In the current study, the 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.

"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," study author Julia Nolte of Cornell University 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," she said, "as they are more likely to perceive COVID-19 solicitations as beneficial than older adults are."

To read the study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, click here


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