Every con artist knows that their victims are more easily manipulated when their emotions are running high.

That could mean getting a victim overly excited by promising easy money, or falsely offering a coveted item at an incredibly low price. It could even mean stoking someone’s anger by making them feel they’ve missed out on important financial opportunities, or that they’re lagging behind their neighbors somehow.

Staying neutral makes a big difference in your vulnerability to fraud

Whatever strong emotion a fraudster tries to elicit, new research has shown that seniors are especially susceptible to fraud when they’re feeling heightened emotions. According to the AARP, a study by Stanford University psychologists tested groups of consumers between the ages of 65-85 and 30-40.

Each consumer group was split into two, with one being a control group. Then, the non-control group was assigned a laboratory task designed to induce them to feel either excitement or anger. Afterward, the groups were shown intentionally misleading advertisements and asked to rate two things: the ad’s believability and the likelihood that they would buy the item or service advertised (assuming cost were not an issue).

What the researchers found is important for seniors to know. While in younger adults, strong emotions did not seem to have a significant effect on an individual’s intention to purchase, in older adults, both emotions - anger and excitement - increased their intention to purchase, when measured against seniors whose emotions hadn’t been roused.

In addition, the correlation between believability and intention to purchase was much stronger in younger adults than in older ones. The researchers believe this suggests that older adults make more emotional purchasing decisions - in other words, their feelings, rather than the advertisement’s credibility, are what spurred their interest in buying the falsely advertised items.

What can you do to avoid becoming a fraud victim?

The biggest takeaway from this study is that remaining calm and skeptical when confronted with a solicitation from an unknown party can greatly reduce your chances of making a poor financial decision.

But then, if emotions were so easy to control, none of us would ever fall victim to fraud - right? So another important thing you can do to reduce your chances of losing money to a con artist is to make yourself aware of some of the most popular scams that are currently targeting older people. These include:

The tech support phone call

If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft’s tech support, hang up the phone. What these scammers do is tell you that a virus has been detected on your computer, and then direct you to a website where you’re supposed to follow instructions to protect your data. This allows the scammer to install malware on your computer that can steal your usernames and passwords, among other personal information.

The IRS threat

This is a tried-and-tested favorite among scammers, probably because the IRS can be a pretty intimidating adversary.

What happens is a person will call you and say they’re from the IRS, possibly even giving you a fake badge number and the last four numbers of your Social Security number. They’ll aggressively tell you that you owe back taxes and must wire money immediately in order to avoid jail time. They could also tell you have a refund available, but you need to verify personal information to receive it.

An unsolicited call from the IRS is always a scam because in reality, the IRS would never call you - they operate through the U.S. Postal Service.

Medical identity theft

When someone steals your credit card, you can’t be held accountable for those fraudulent charges. If someone steals your identity and uses it to purchase health services or even medical procedures, however, you can be forced to pay for them.

To prevent this, closely guard your personal data - that means your Social Security number, insurance information, and Medicare information. Don’t give it out to anyone unless you know for a fact that the organization they’re with is legitimate. Those free health check-up stations that get set up at malls and other public places have been known to be fronts for medical fraud.

Unfortunately, seniors can easily become targets for fraud simply because of their age. And this isn’t limited to unsolicited phone calls or anonymous “check your blood pressure” setups. Unscrupulous salespeople can also be found in the financial industry, and they may pressure seniors into making financial decisions that are not in their best interests.

Because of this, it’s important that you work with your trusted financial advisor if you’re considering a life settlement. He or she can help you find a fully compliant, licensed life settlement broker and ensure that you’re making a good financial decision.