Psychological and Functional Vulnerability Predicts Fraud Cases in Older Adults: Results of a Longitudinal Study

Authors:  Peter Lichtenberg, Wayne State University; Michael Sugarman, University of Central Florida & Wayne State University; Daniel Paulson, Wayne State University; Lisa Ficker, Wayne State University; Annalise Rahman-Filipiak, Wayne State University

Publication: Clinical Gerontologist

Year: 2016

Focus Area: 2000 to present, Aging, Fraud Surveys; Victim Profiling

Relevance: Very few studies have examined the predictors of fraud in a longitudinal sample of older adults. This paper extends previous work using a second wave of Health and Retirement Study data to compute incidence of fraud and to compare prevalence rates between 2008 and 2012. Baseline demographic and psychological vulnerability factors were also used with to test the ability to predict incident cases of fraud longitudinally.

Summary: Measures obtained from the general HRS dataset in 2008 were age, gender, race, years of education, marital status (presently partnered vs. not partnered), depression, functional limitations, self-rated health, total reported annual income, and cognition. Data were also gathered on social needs (affection, behavioral confirmation, and status); financial exploitation (thefts and scams); and level of financial satisfaction. Psychological vulnerability was defined by having clinically significant symptoms of depression and being in the lowest 10% for social-needs fulfilment.

  • The final sample contained 4,661 participants
  • Overall reported prevalence of fraud across a 5-year look-back increased significantly between 2008 and 2012
  • Being younger, more depressed and having more education significantly predicted fraud (education was the strongest predictor).
  • The psychologically vulnerable reported fraud at a rate that was 140% higher than the rest of the sample, which means
    that one out of every 10.3 persons in this group had experienced fraud, compared with 1 out of 24 for the rest of the sample.

Author Abstract: Using cross sectional data Psychological vulnerability was identified as a correlate of older adults being defrauded. We extend that research by examining fraud prevalence using longitudinal data from the Health and Retirement
Study, and to identify the best predictors of fraud longitudinally across a 4-year time frame. Whereas reported fraud prevalence was 5.0% in a 5-year look-back period in 2008, it increased to 6.1% in 2012. The rate of new-incident fraud across only a 4-year look-back was 4.3%. Being younger-old, having a higher level of education, and having more depression significantly predicted the new cases of fraud reported in 2012. Psychological vulnerability was a potent longitudinal predictor of fraud, with the most vulnerable individuals being more than twice as likely to be defrauded. Results indicate that fraud victimization among older adults is rising, and that vulnerability variables, along with some demographic variables, predict new cases of fraud.