Helping prevent elder financial abuse through design

1. The Problem

Financial Fraud is the fastest growing form of elder abuse. Financial elder abuse is when someone illegally uses a vulnerable senior’s money. Elder Financial abuse is tough to combat, in part because it often goes unreported. Many elderly victims are too confused, fearful, or embarrassed by the crime to report it. One recent study reported by Consumers Digest estimated that there are at least 5 million cases of this financial abuse in the United States each year, but law enforcement or government officials learn about only 1 in 25 cases.

2. Starting the human centered design process

In the small group of designers I worked on this project with, we had our own assumptions about the topic. We spent some time writing each of those assumptions down along with the counter assumptions. To find out which of those things were true, we came up with a set of interview questions. We interviewed people on the street and found that most everyone knew about elder financial abuse but didn’t have much experience with it. Many of the people we talked to didn’t have much knowledge on the subject bust some did. One person’s mother was targeted with an online scam that ended up causing a lot of trouble. Their mother had been using her computer and someone online tried to trick her into giving up personal information. The elderly woman didn’t have knowledge or experiences with scammers and their first instinct was to trust.

“If they [the elderly] are isolated and lonely and this person on the phone befriends them… they’re going to believe them.” -Kris, Financial Auditor at the Utah Department of Aging Services

I wanted to make an informational resource for elderly people where they could find out more about financial abuse so that they could make informed decisions if they find themselves in an unfortunate situation. There are other sites that provide information about the topic from but few of them were aimed at solving this specific problem. Many of those sites that have information on the topic really made the user search for what they were trying to find. Seeing those sites made me want to shape my site as a very easy tool that elderly people could use to get the most important things done.

The team and I sent out a version of our interview questions in a survey to people we knew. We wanted to learn more about people’s experiences.

My group and I also met with experts on the topic. We went to the Utah Department of Aging Services and met with both the information specialist and the auditor. They had good insight and we learned a lot from them.

“If a person is isolated, then they’re more likely to be taken advantage of” -Debbie, Information and Education Specialist at the Utah Department of Aging Services
“It’s all about getting people to realize and understand how important it is to report financial abuse” -Kris, Financial Auditor at the Utah Department of Aging Services

3. User Story Mapping

After learning all that we did about elderly financial abuse, we created a persona and started a user story mapping activity. We came up with all the features a user in our persona’s situation would do or could do. We grouped all of our ideas and related them back to our personas. We then decided what was the minimum viable product the the site would be. At this point we split off to create our own designs. Some of the things we said might be a good idea to include did not make it to my final designs. I could choose what features I thought helped the user the most according to the research, survey results, and what people said.

4. Designing my own sites from the research

I took the information I had gathered with my group and began to work on my own designs. I started by designing for mobile web first.

It was good that I tested my initial designs and found how people used them. I had a tab system that I thought would be really helpful to elderly users but it didn’t really help them find there way around. After the testing, I really gained some insight on how people expected a site like this to work. Though my goal in doing the original designs was to build off of elderly people’s mental models of how papers might be organized in a filing cabinet, many of them already have mental models of how basic websites display content. The more simply that content is displayed, the easier it is for them to learn and navigate the website. Some of my cool ideas didn’t really pan out the way I thought. The tabs I had in the low fidelity designs just were confusing to elderly users.

After the first round of usability testing, I restructured the information architecture of much of my site to make information more findable to a first time user.

In my final designs, I focused on making the site very usable for elderly people. I wanted to make sure that my designs had very legible fonts, clear contrast, and language that is clear and concise. I made sure to give all the text a slightly larger than average size so anyone who had visual impairments would able able to read more easily. Although that is good enough for most people, I wanted to make sure everyone could access the information on the site so I added a screen reading button that the could click to have the page read aloud to them.

These final designs better solve the problems of our persona. Margaret, our primary persona, wanted to feel safe and in control of her life. To help her with that, I dedicated a page to teaching her about what scams are out there and what she could do in that situation. She wanted to maintain the lifestyle she had worked for and I tried to solve that by giving her steps to complete if fraud did happen to her. I dedicated a page as a place for people to share their experiences if they had fraud happen to them. The goal of this was to give people a place to share what they’ve learned as well as a place where people can read about those experiences and hopefully not repeat other’s mistakes

5. My takeaways

I set out to design a site that could help prevent widespread elderly financial abuse. Because law enforcement only learns of about 1 in 25 cases, I wanted to help those people who don’t report their elderly financial abuse. I did this with my designs by providing a simple place for people to learn about the scams that are going around. I believe Scam Aid would help people learn more about the scams that are out there and since many people don’t bother to keep up with what is going on with scammers, it could potentially prevent millions of dollars from being taken from elders. If I had more time, I would have done more usability testing to refine my final product but overall I am happy with the outcomes.