Digital Platform for Seniors

Data from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center shows that in 2021, more than 92,000 U.S. adults aged 60 and over reported being victims of online scams. Their losses? Roughly $1.7 billion.

To confront this problem, researchers from Lehigh and four other universities have been granted a two-year, $5 million National Science Foundation award to create digital tools that help older adults better recognize and protect themselves from online deceptions and other forms of disinformation.

“Senior citizens are one of the most targeted and vulnerable groups when it comes to social financial scams,” explains Dominic DiFranzo, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering.

DiFranzo is a collaborator on the Deception Awareness and Resilience Training (DART) project, which is led by University of Buffalo professor Siwei Lyu, through UB’s Center for Information Integrity. The team also includes members from Cornell University, Clemson University, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

The project is funded by the NSF’s Convergence Accelerator, a program the agency launched in 2019 to support “basic research and discovery to accelerate solutions toward societal impact.”

DART builds upon a $750,000 Phase I grant the multi-university research team received in 2021, when it began meeting with older adults in Western New York and South Carolina to better understand why they fall victim to online deceptions.

The approach uses digital games—including engaging and realistic social media situations—to make learning fun. The aim is to make DART easy to use, so older adults can learn on their own, in communal settings such as adult homes or libraries, or with the aid of a caregiver.

There are many digital literacy tools available, but many are not tailored to older adults, which limits their effectiveness. DART aims to address this limitation by including a wide range of online schemes older adults encounter. The team will update the learning materials as schemes evolve.

Lehigh is leading the technical design, development, and deployment of the DART platform.

Illustration: iStock/ELENABS