Using Design to Prevent Fraud and Abuse Among the Elderly
“My sisters took about $1.5 million from my mother through stock and title transfers for which they gave her nothing. She ended up needing government aid because she had nothing left.”
The comment above came from an interview with a man from Montana. He spent over five years trying to recover the assets his sisters stole and only recovered a small amount.
Financial fraud is a fast growing form of elder abuse. Older generations are prime targets for exploitation. They have generational values of trust and honesty. They aren’t as accustomed to using the internet and its accompanying technologies. They also have considerable savings for retirement. The chart below shows the monetary impact of fraud and abuse. What it doesn’t show is the impact fraud and abuse can have on the mental and emotional state of victims. I worked with four fellow students to design an interface that helps prevent fraud. We were in the DevMountain immersive UX Design program.
Before starting we planned out our approach. Step one was to empathize with potential users and gain insight into financial fraud. Step two was to define the goals, frustrations, and motivations of future users. Then figure out which ones we were most important to address. Third was to ideate ways to solve those pain points through design. Finally we created a prototype and tested it for feedback and improvement.
Gaining Empathy Through Research
As a design team we started with research in the form of interviews. My specific role was to create questions that would help us better understand the topic. I shared these questions on various social media platforms and forums. Then I took to the streets of downtown Salt Lake City asking anyone who would talk to me.
Here are examples of the questions I asked:
After talking to people in the street I realized that I hadn’t asked anyone for contact information. I wouldn’t be able to ask more in depth questions. I hadn’t included that in my survey. So I added a question asking if people would be willing to answer more questions in an interview. It was a few days after I posted the survey but I got one more response willing to talk more about her experience. I would have had more opportunities for interviews if I had included it sooner.
During other interviews I took notes and recorded the conversation. I helped come up with the questions but my teammates asked them. We were able to connect with two women working at the Utah Adult Protective Services. They were very helpful.
I also researched statistics from government and non-profit organizations. This would help inform our design decisions.
Here’s what we learned
- People are aware that fraud is out there in various forms. Email scams, phone scams, identity theft, etc.
- Other than “call my bank” or “call the police”, people aren’t sure what they would do if it happened to them.
- People don’t think their family members would steal from them even though offenders often are family members.
- People struggle to report fraud or abuse due to shame/embarrassment.
Defining User Needs
Taking what we learned I worked with my design team to create a user persona and empathy map. These served as reminders of the main pain points we were trying solve.
- Difficult dialog surrounding finance and fraud
- Feelings of vulnerability
- Being assertive with family and strangers
- Trouble recognizing fraud/abuse
- Shame and embarrassment in reporting
Coming Up With Ideas
Once we determined what problems to solve we began exploring possible solutions. Through various ideation techniques we decided to create an educational resource. It would also have an easy way to report suspected fraud/abuse and resources to improve dialogue.
At this point in the project we split up and each designed the interface on our own. My first step was to create a site map to get an idea of how I could organize the site in a way that is simple and easy to use.
Next I sketched out various ideas on how the different pages should look. I took the sketches and turned them into rough wireframes in Sketch.
I took the wireframes and did some usability testing. Feedback told me that they were easy to navigate but the labeling was confusing. So I performed open card sorts. From those I was able to find labels that better communicated content and purpose.
I also returned to the websites I had researched to compare layouts, color, and text.
Moving towards higher fidelity I considered four major things.
- Typography: I used a larger font size and wider spacing to increase readability.
- Color: At first I used red because it grabs attention and conveys danger. But, the site was for education and prevention so I switched to blues. They communicate trust and are a more calming color.
- Images: At first all the images I used were happy retirement age couples. Research suggests that elderly singles are more common victims of financial abuse. So I changed the images to happy individuals and groups.
- White Space: Research suggests that sites geared toward the elderly should be minimal. Sites should include a lot of white space to allow their eyes to rest.
Returning to the user pain points, here’s what I came up with to help resolve them.
Difficult dialog surrounding finance and fraud. I included a resource that teaches good ways to approach difficult conversations. It gives people a place to start and encourages them to open dialogue.
Feelings of vulnerability and trouble recognizing fraud/abuse. There is a page with information on common scams and how to recognize abuse/fraud. Increasing knowledge on the topic increases feelings of competency.
Being assertive with family and strangers. Here I created a resource that teaches about personal boundaries. It also gives tips on becoming more assertive.
Shame and embarrassment in reporting. I included a page with stories and advice from real people who have experienced fraud or abuse. This helps reduce shame. It lets them know they aren’t alone in their experience and that it can happen to anyone.
I had three weeks to work on this project. Looking back after having “finished” it there are things that I would change or have done differently.
- Due to time constraints I wan’t able to do much usability testing with users who would most likely be on the site. With more time I would have tried to find more users within the target audience.
- We struggled to find many people who had experienced financial abuse who were willing to talk about it. With more time it would have been beneficial to gather more information from them.
- Creating something visually pleasing from scratch is very challenging. The visual aspect of the design was what was most challenging for me and is definitely a skill that I am working to develop more.
This was a student project so the site that I designed isn’t live. Below are actual resources for information on fraud and abuse.
Click here for the US Senate’s Special Committee on Aging. Their resources page has a lot of additional sites.
Click here for the National Adult Protective Services Association