June is World Elder Abuse Awareness Month. Throughout the month, government agencies, businesses and organizations sponsor events to unite communities, seniors, caregivers, governments and the private sector to prevent the mistreatment of and violence against older people.

Scammers often target older people. They use fear to pressure people into providing personal information or money. In times like the current pandemic, when people are particularly vulnerable, scammers will pretend to be government employees, often from Social Security, to gain people’s trust to steal their money and personal information.

The most effective way to defeat scammers is by knowing how to identify scams then hanging up or ignoring the calls.

What you can do

If you get a Social Security scam phone call, hang up, report it to our law enforcement office at oig.ssa.gov, and tell your family and friends about it! We’re telling as many people as we can that government agencies will never:

• Tell you that your Social Security number has been suspended.

• Tell you about crimes committed in your name, or offer to resolve identity theft or a benefit problem in exchange for payment.

• Request a specific means of debt repayment, such as a retail gift card, prepaid debit card, wire transfer, internet currency, or cash.

• Insist on secrecy about a legal problem, or tell you to make up stories to tell family, friends, or store employees.

Scammers continue to develop new ways to mislead you. They might use the names of Social Security officials and tell you to look them up on our public websites (where they learned the names themselves).

Or, they might email you official-looking documents with a letterhead that looks like it’s from Social Security or Social Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Don’t believe them! Social Security will NEVER email you attachments that have your personal information in them.

If you ever owe money to Social Security, the agency will mail you a letter, explaining your payment options and your appeal rights.

If you get a call about a Social Security problem, be very cautious. If you do not have ongoing business with the agency, or if the caller mentions suspending your Social Security number or makes other threats, the call is likely a scam. Ignore it, hang up and report it to us at oig.ssa.gov. We are working to stop the scams and educate people to avoid becoming victims.

Vonda VanTil is the Public Affairs Specialist for West Michigan. You can write her c/o Social Security Administration, 3045 Knapp NE, Grand Rapids MI 49525 or via email at vonda.vantil@ssa.gov.