4 Ways Elders’ Assumptions About Relationships Make Them Vulnerable to Scams

I’ve been watching an online continuing education course lately called “Inside the Manipulator’s Mind,” taught by Alan Godwin, PhD. It’s a fascinating and disturbing look at the psychology and interpersonal dynamics of manipulation. I found one part in particular related to protecting seniors from scams, frauds, and financial abuse/exploitation.

 Today’s seniors are often a part of what’s been called the “Gentleman’s Generation.” Taught to be polite and gracious to others, this marvelous relational style is sorely lacking in much of today’s social interactions. The problem is, 4 of those basic assumptions of this gentlemanly (and ladylike) style get twisted into manipulation in the hands of ruthless crooks. Let’s take a look at them:

 1. “Give people the benefit of the doubt.”

 This is a healthy practice with those we love, at least most of the time. It reflects the reality that most people whom we love are trying to do the right thing, but human failings cause all of us to make mistakes sometimes. However, when dealing with a scammer or exploitative family member, this can be dangerous. Beware the overly aggr family member and never give a stranger on the phone or who accosts you in person the benefit of the doubt.

Updated assumption: Give yourself  the benefit of your healthy doubt. Use skeptical thinking and don’t  blindly trust everyone.

 2. “Don’t think bad of people.”

We’re taught that we’re supposed to be kind and loving to people, which is right and good for those we know are reasonable and trustworthy. Not so for potential scammers. Many (maybe most) people we meet are decent folks, not out to hurt anyone, and only wanting to do the right thing and help someone out of a desire to contribute. That’s why it’s essential to remember the 10 Dead Giveaways for a Scam: If someone crosses a line and commits one of the giveaways, it’s time to go on “high alert.” A ripoff is probably about to occur. I’m not recommending paranoia, I’m encouraging positive vigilance for the times we live in. 

 Updated thinking: Being polite to strangers is good, but keep good boundaries by listening for the Dead Giveaways for a Scam and ending all contact if the person crosses the line. 


3. “Treat people like you want to be treated.”

The Golden Rule, cornerstone of society for thousands of years. It’s still good advice overall, but scammers can use it to gather information and steal seniors’ money and identity. Oftentimes crooks will present as the nicest people you’d ever want to meet, as was the case with Bill and his phony sweepstakes scam. This sets up the social norm of reciprocity, meaning that if you do something for me, then I am obliged to do something for you. If a senior follows this norm with an untrustworthy stranger or family member, they can set themselves up for victimization.

Updated thinking: Treat people in ways that are kind and firm. If someone asks for money or personal information of any kind, end the contact. Review the 10 Dead Giveaways for a Scam.

 4. “Try to find the good in everyone.”

Again, a good idea for relating to an imperfect but honest spouse or family member. A form of this assumption can show up in the overconfidence bias, in which the potential (or actual) victim can minimize or overlook ways the person might be ripping them off or exploiting them. “Sob stories” are one of the Dead Giveaways, filled as they are with the poor victim’s suffering and attempts to help another person. They may be their grandchild or child, but a scammer is still a scammer. 

Updated thinking: Don’t over focus on a person’s good qualities and ignore or downplay the ways they are ripping you off. Pay healthy attention to dishonesty and the presence of manipulation through pressure or guilt.

In many ways it’s sad that the world and people have come to this state of affairs. However, we can be sad and safer at the same time. 

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