The recent Equifax data breach is an unhappy and all-too-frequent reminder that no matter how carefully we protect our confidential information, sensitive data is stolen from businesses and individuals every year. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country, and scams targeting seniors are rampant. So how can you help your aging parent avoid being the victim of a scam?

Safeguarding personal information and being on the alert for con artists won’t eliminate all risk, but these tips can reduce the chances of being victimized:

• Shred bill stubs, credit card offers, and other material containing personal information. Dumpster diving and stealing from trash cans is still used by thieves to obtain confidential information that can be used for identity theft.

• Talk with your parent about the common phone scams that target the elderly. These include phone calls from alleged “grandkids” who claim they are in trouble and need money wired to them, fake or questionable charities calling for donations, callers offering “vacation sweepstakes” or “lottery winnings,” callers claiming they are from Microsoft or another legitimate computer company insisting that your computer needs to be serviced, fake “IRS agents” demanding money, among many other phone scams. A good rule of thumb is to hang up immediately if one has answered a suspicious call.

• Encourage your parent to keep important documents such as his/her social security card in a safe place and never carry an excessive number of credit cards.

• If your parent uses a computer, encourage him/her to use “strong” passwords and change them frequently, keep anti-virus, anti-spyware and malware protection current, and delete everything on the hard drive of a computer or smartphone before discarding or selling it.

• File tax returns as soon as possible, as tax refund fraud is also a huge problem.

• Don’t respond to door-to-door solicitors, especially those who claim they can do home improvement projects at bargain-basement prices. Many times these individuals are unlicensed and uninsured, are unqualified to do the actual work, or simply disappear once they get a deposit or before the job is done. Unfortunately, many people who are victims of con artists don’t report it to the police out of shame or embarrassment.

If personal information is stolen and used to make unauthorized purchases, steps to minimize losses include the following:

• Notify creditors and/or banks of the theft, and file a police report if necessary.
• Place fraud alerts and/or credit freezes on credit reports. For people affected by the Equifax breach, these steps will prevent unauthorized account activity.
• Close the affected accounts.
• If you have identity theft protection, contact the company for help.

While identity theft is often called a “silent crime,” the impact can be anything but minor and can take a great deal of time and effort to resolve.

My company, Senior Transitions, helps families who are dealing with caregiver stress. If you would like to discuss your family’s needs, please contact us at

    or 850-894-6720 and we’ll be happy to help you.