3 Social Security Scams Tied Directly to Record 2023 COLA — How They Can Trick You

Worried senior couple using phone while sitting on sofa at home.
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For Social Security recipients, the new year brings a new cost-of-living adjustment — and at 8.7%, the 2023 COLA is the highest in more than 40 years. Average Social Security payments will increase by $146 a month this year, and scammers are already hard at work trying to get a piece of all that money.

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The 8.7% COLA has led to a rise in scammers who impersonate Social Security Administration staff in robocalls, text messages, emails and other communications, the AARP reported. Many of the scams involve telling victims they must pay a fee or provide personal or financial data to get the higher payment.

“We’ve seen actual letters sent to prospective victims, as well as text messages, emails and even a fake website, all targeting beneficiaries expecting a COLA increase,” A.J. Monaco, special agent in charge of the major case unit at the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General, told the AARP.

Those kinds of communications are a red flag that fraud is in play. As the SSA states on its website, the agency will only send emails or text messages if you have opted to receive them, and only in limited situations, including the following:

  • When you have subscribed with Social Security to receive updates and notifications by text or email
  • As part of Social Security’s enhanced security when accessing your personal my Social Security account
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The SSA might also email or text you about programs and services, but it will never ask for a return call to an unknown number or request personal information.

Here are three scams to be aware of that are tied to the 2023 COLA:

Information Requests To Activate the COLA

Many scammers try to trick Social Security beneficiaries into providing personal and financial information as a way of activating the COLA increase. But as Monaco said, COLA increases “are automatic, and do not require recipients to take any action.”

If you receive communications asking for your Social Security number, bank account numbers or other sensitive information, don’t respond to them. They’re probably scams.

Threat of Lost Benefits

This scam has been going on for years. It mainly involves false claims from phony Social Security officials telling victims they face the threat of lost benefits, seized assets or even arrest due to misuse of their Social Security numbers.

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The COLA angle emerged in late 2021, after the SSA announced a 5.9% adjustment for the following year. At the time, it was the biggest bump in 40 years, and scammers saw a big opportunity to take advantage. With the 2023 COLA even higher at 8.7%, even more scammers will emerge.

Mass Robocalls

Some scammers target people who are more likely to be thinking about Social Security by applying the “spray and pray” method, according to Giulia Porter, vice president at Robokiller, a maker of call-blocking apps. This involves blasting robocalls out to area codes with older populations and using caller ID spoofs to make the calls appear to be of local origin or from government entities. The high 2023 COLA means even more scammers will use the spray and pray method.

“Scammers can easily look up data on where are the most ‘retired’ communities in the U.S.,” Porter told AARP. “What they’re hoping for is that you’re rushing, the phone rings, and maybe you just registered for Social Security or something about Social Security was in the back of your mind, something that maybe you read in the news.”

If you get a robocall on behalf of Social Security, it’s probably a scam because Social Security “will never just call you out of the blue,” Porter said.

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If you’ve been targeted by a Social Security scam, you can report it to the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General and the Federal Trade Commission.

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The SSA also recommends taking a screenshot or photo of the fraudulent website, social media post, email or text message(s) you received. For U.S. postal mailings, scan or take cell phone pictures of the complete mailing, including the front and back of the outside envelope. Hold onto the actual mailing for at least 30 days after reporting the scam.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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