KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– Family and friends may be more effective than consumer education in helping the elderly avoid becoming victims of unfair business practices, a University of Tennessee researcher said Friday.
Dr. Jinkook Lee, an assistant professor in the UT-Knoxville College of Human Ecology, said her research shows the elderly tend to trust businesses that others would view with suspicion.
The results were published in the June issue of the “Journal of Consumer Affairs.”
Lee said the trust factor is one reason many elderly don’t take advantage of consumer information and programs.
“The most vulnerable consumers often do not realize the value of consumer education programs,” Lee said. “They tend not to be enthusiastic students, and they tend not to seek help until there is a problem.
“Consumer information is important, but it might be more effective in this situation if it was targeted to the family and friends of the elderly.”
Family and friends, aware of consumers’ rights and unfair business practices, can serve an important “watchdog” role for the elderly, Lee said.
The elderly may live in social isolation, which makes them more vulnerable to fraud or unfair business tactics, Lee said.
“These individuals often find it very difficult to say ‘no’ to someone who is nice to them,” Lee said.
Family and friends can help by being available so the elderly have someone to talk to when business decisions need to be made, Lee said.
Among the factors contributing to consumer vulnerability, Lee’s study found age was most significant, followed by marital status and education.
Vulnerability was found unrelated to gender, race, length of residence, and region of the country, Lee said.
Lee’s research was conducted with Horacio Soberon-Ferrer, who was an economist at Florida State University during the study. They interviewed consumers and used data provided by the American Association of Retired Persons.
Contact: Dr. Jinhook Lee (423-974-4594)