Seniors transforming anti-fraud education by bridging the language gap

Above: A screenshot from the anti-fraud website designed for seniors and available in seven different languages. 

by Stephen Dafoe

In the battle against online fraud, a group of seniors in St. Albert, led by Linda Ensley, the Executive Director of the St. Albert Seniors Association, decided it was time for a change. Frustrated by previous anti-fraud training that seemed to be missing the mark, these seniors took matters into their own hands. Their revelation? The problem wasn’t with them; it was with the language. 

Ensley said the course began after several seniors approached her, saying they had been defrauded. Despite having previously taken anti-fraud training through police or other agencies’ resources, the message was still not getting through. 

“We sat down and did a focus group with these beautiful, open and wonderful seniors who were willing to tell us why it was that they kept getting defrauded and what it was that they weren’t understanding that was keeping them from being protected,” Ensley said. “Here’s what they told us. They didn’t understand the language that we were using.”

Ensley cited an example of a senior in her 80s who was left utterly confused by the term for a web address—URL (Uniform Resource Locator), which sounded like the word urinal to her and understandably made no sense regarding how that might be a caution for online fraud awareness.

“If you are hard of hearing a little bit, and you have no context for what a URL is, it sounds like a urinal,” Ensley said.

Noting that it was the program designers and writers at issue and not the seniors who lacked the terminology, they set out to simplify the fraud prevention information.

“It’s our fault that we were not being basic enough. They didn’t really understand how the Internet worked, what to look for, and how to understand the language. Even the language on the Canadian anti-fraud site, which is good, was not working for them because the language was not basic enough,” Ensley explained.

Ensley pulled together twenty-five groups, roughly 100 seniors, representing various languages, cultures, and backgrounds to remedy the situation. Participants ranged from 50 to 100. 

“We put them in these focus groups, and we hired some writers to begin to write us anti-fraud material,” Ensley said. “We handed it over to them and let them come back with ‘we don’t understand this. We don’t understand that. This makes no sense. That makes no sense.’ We started from ground zero and used over 100 seniors to help us clean this up.”

Ensley said the seniors for whom English is a second language were particularly helpful in ensuring the language used was more translatable/ The program is available in seven different languages.

“It was really exciting,” Ensley said of the work for which she wrote and successfully received a grant to develop the program. She notes the project was a partnership between the Edmonton Senior Centre, St. Albert Seniors Association, and the Chinese Seniors Association with funding from the Edmonton Community Foundation. “The three of us got together and worked our tuchuses off and got this website built.”

Ensley says the results have been positive since the site’s launch. Recently, she received an email from a senior who found the courses valuable, having been a target of an attempted scam. “We want as many people to know how easy it is to cause financial harm to not only seniors but ‘youngsters.’ We are in our mid-70s, so this technology is difficult to negotiate,” the letter read.

The website, located at, includes information and even videos, all acted by senior actors, to help those taking the online program navigate and avoid the world of online fraud.

Ensley hopes area seniors will take the online program to help keep someone’s hand out of their pockets. 

The course can be taken all at once, taking a couple of hours, but it is also broken into segments so participants can do the course a bit at a time.

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